A new study finds that women who develop a severe form of pregnancy-related high blood pressure tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin D. The condition is known as early-onset severe preeclampsia, and it contributes to about 15 percent of preterm births in the U.S. each year.
Researchers found that vitamin D levels were generally low among 50 women with early severe preeclampsia. Their average vitamin D level in the former group was a very low 18 nanograms per milliliter.
“If vitamin D is involved in preeclampsia risk ... then it might help explain why African American women are at greater risk of the complication than other racial groups ... Vitamin D is naturally synthesized in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. This process is less efficient in people with darker skin.”
If you or anyone you know is pregnant, PLEASE make sure that you get your vitamin D levels (25 hydroxy D) regularly checked during your pregnancy.
We know today that your levels need to be above 50 ng/ml to protect you and your baby from some of the most serious complications of pregnancy such as premature delivery and preeclampsia -- but most obstetricians will NOT automatically check your levels for you.
Please do not assume that your levels have been tested in with the routine pregnancy blood work you receive. You will need to specifically ask to have your vitamin D tested. It is very likely that it will be considered malpractice to not check pregnant women’s vitamin D levels in the near future, but for now it is not standard practice.
Unfortunately, by the time health policy catches up with the research, many pregnant women today will have missed out on the chance to provide their unborn babies with sufficient vitamin D during pregnancy -- but this needn’t happen to you or your loved ones.
Vitamin D is Crucial for Preventing Many Serious Pregnancy Complications
Preeclampsia is a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid accompanied during pregnancy. Early-onset severe preelcampsia is especially dangerous as it occurs before the 34th week of pregnancy. Because the only “cure” for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, it is responsible for 15 percent of preterm births in the United States.
Preeclampsia and related disorders are thought to cause 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths every year -- deaths that could potentially be prevented by simply optimizing vitamin D.
According to the latest research, women with early severe preeclampsia were more likely to have low vitamin D levels than women with healthy pregnancies. In fact, the women with preeclampsia had vitamin D levels that averaged just 18 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) -- a serious deficiency state.
You see, vitamin D is far more than “just a vitamin.” Rather it’s the only known substrate for a potent, pleiotropic (meaning it produces multiple effects), repair and maintenance seco-steroid hormone that serves multiple gene-regulatory functions in your body, including during pregnancy.
The researchers speculated that vitamin D may affect the regulation and function of proteins in the placenta, which are believed to be involved in preeclampsia. Even a 10-ng/mL increase in vitamin D was found to lower the women’s risks of preeclampsia by 63 percent!
Research Shows Vitamin D Benefits for Preeclampsia, Premature Birth and More
U.S. researchers Drs. Hollis and Wagner also found that the "core morbidities of pregnancy" -- diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia -- were reduced by 30 percent in the women who took high-dose vitamin D, amounting to 4,000 IUs of vitamin D a day (ten times the RDA of 400 IU).
Their findings were discussed at an international vitamin D research conference in Brugge, Belgium, and also included other promising benefits including:
- Mothers who took 4,000 IUs of vitamin D during pregnancy had their risk of premature birth reduced by half
- Premature babies born to women taking high doses of vitamin D were reduced by half at both 32 and 37 weeks
- There were also fewer babies who were born "small for dates"
- Women taking high doses of vitamin D had a 25 percent reduction in infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu, as well as fewer infections of the vagina and the gums
- Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema
Most Pregnant Women are Vitamin D Deficient
Unfortunately, the study by Drs. Hollis and Wagner found that over 87 percent of all newborns and over 67 percent of all mothers had vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml, which is a severe deficiency state. As a result, the researchers recommended that all mothers optimize their vitamin D levels during pregnancy, especially in the winter months, to safeguard their babies' health.
This finding could also help to explain the disproportionately high numbers of poor outcomes among African American births along with the increased risk of preeclampsia among African American women, as deficiency is extremely common among people with darker skin colors.
African Americans and other dark-skinned people and those living in northern latitudes make significantly less vitamin D than other groups; the darker your skin is, the less likely it is that you will produce adequate vitamin D levels from sun exposure alone.
Again, this is why it is just so important that you get your levels tested.
Government Vitamin D Recommendations -- and Reference Ranges -- are Far Too Low
Current guidelines recommend pregnant women consume from 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D a day, an amount that is far too low; most adults will need from 5,000 to 10,000 units every day to reach therapeutic levels unless they are spending one or more hours a day in the sun with most of their skin uncovered.
Based on the latest research, many experts now agree you need about 35 IU's of vitamin D per pound of body weight. This recommendation is the same for adults, children, the elderly and pregnant women.
But, remember that vitamin D requirements are highly individual.
Your vitamin D status is dependent on several factors, such as the color of your skin, your location, and how much sunshine you're exposed to on a regular basis. So, although these recommendations may put you closer to the level of what most people likely need, it is virtually impossible to make a blanket recommendation that will cover everyone.
The only accurate way to determine your optimal dose is to get your blood tested, and then be aware that the reference ranges from the lab may say your levels are normal when in fact they are still too low.
Ideally, you'll want to maintain a vitamin D level of at least 50 ng/ml and perhaps as high as 80-90 ng/ml year-round.
For in-depth information about safe sun exposure, dosing and other recommendations to safely and effectively optimize your vitamin D levels, please watch my free one-hour lecture on vitamin D.
Calling All Pregnant Women: A Simple Way to Monitor Your Vitamin D
GrassrootsHealth is looking for pregnant women, lactating women, and infants to participate in their Grassrootshealth D*action study, which is aiming to further prove the links between vitamin D levels and healthy babies.
If you’re interested you can save 15 percent off your vitamin D testing simply by being a Mercola subscriber.
How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help Optimize Your Health
Additionally, a robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention. Vitamin D affects your DNA through vitamin D receptors (VDRs), which bind to specific locations of the human genome. Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D levels, and vitamin D receptors have been found throughout the human body.
Is it any wonder then that no matter what disease or condition is investigated, vitamin D appears to play a crucial role? This is why I am so excited about the D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth. It is showing how you can take action today on known science with a consensus of experts without waiting for institutional lethargy. It has shown how by combining the science of measurement (of vitamin D levels) with the personal choice of taking action and, the value of education about individual measures that one can truly be in charge of their own health.
In order to spread this health movement to more communities, the project needs your involvement. This was an ongoing campaign during the month of February, and will become an annual event.
To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)
As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you "it's time for your next test and health survey."