The Hidden Link to Black-White Disparities in Bad Birth Outcomes

newborn, birthIn the United States, there are disparities in rates of pregnancy problems among women of different skin colors. One previously unexplored possible influence on the disparity in adverse birth outcomes is maternal vitamin D status.

A new review looked at the evidence relating maternal vitamin D to preeclampsia, spontaneous preterm birth, gestational diabetes, and fetal growth restriction.

According to the authors of the study:

"The literature reviewed highlights strong biologic plausibility of role for vitamin D in the pathophysiology of these poor pregnancy outcomes ...

Because vitamin D deficiency is widespread and black-white disparities in pregnancy outcomes and infant survival have been resistant to previous interventions, research to test vitamin D as a causal factor is of major public health significance."

Optimal vitamin D levels are not only important during pregnancy but throughout childhood and your adult life as well.

In a separate new study, researchers looked at the relationship between vitamin D status and physical function in a group of relatively healthy seniors.

Those with the highest levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D had better physical function -- and over the course of the 4-year study, those with the highest vitamin D levels maintained significantly higher physical function.

A glaring disparity exists in pregnancy outcomes of African American and Caucasian women. Twice as many black babies die in infancy as do white babies, and black women also have a three times greater risk of dying during pregnancy than white women, one University of Michigan Health System press release reported.

The exact reasons for the significant differences are still being explored, and likely include a wide variety of factors ranging from diet and income level to prenatal care and social support.

However, as researchers pointed out in the Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, there is significant evidence that low vitamin D levels result in a range of problems for both pregnant women and their babies, yet this factor has remained largely unexplored.

When you delve into the evidence, it becomes fairly obvious that optimizing vitamin D levels in pregnant women may drastically improve pregnancy outcomes across all races -- including African Americans.

Why Vitamin D is so Important for Pregnant Women and Newborns

Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is easily one of the most important strategies pregnant women need to take to keep both themselves and their babies healthy.

U.S. researchers Drs. Hollis and Wagner recently divulged their impressive findings from what is considered the first scientific trial that meets the most stringent criteria for "evidence-based inquiry" into vitamin D and pregnancy.

Their findings were discussed at a recent international vitamin D research conference in Brugge, Belgium, and included:

  • Mothers who took 4,000 IU's (ten times the RDA of 400 IU) 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, and
  • 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
  • The "core morbidities of pregnancy" were reduced by 30 percent in the women who took the high-dose vitamin D. (Including diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia -- a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid)
  • Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema

The pair has researched vitamin D's impact on pregnancy outcomes for a number of years. In 2006 they published a study in the journal CMAJ, "Nutritional vitamin D status during pregnancy: reasons for concern," and in a 2007 study they discovered that that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in pregnancy.

The findings are so significant that researcher Dr. Bruce Hollis of the Medical University of South Carolina said:

"I'm telling every pregnant mother I see to take 4,000 IUs and every nursing mother to take 6,400 IUs of vitamin D a day.

I think it is medical malpractice for obstetricians not to know what the vitamin D level of their patients is. This study will put them on notice."

Another 2009 study on vitamin D deficiency in newborns with acute lower respiratory infection confirmed a strong, positive correlation between newborns' and mothers' vitamin D levels. In addition, numerous other studies have found that vitamin D may protect against a number of birth defects and autism.

How can one "vitamin" have so many different, beneficial effects? Because 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.

Remember, too, that maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is important not only during pregnancy, but also at all stages of your life. Brand new research presented at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting, for instance, showed that older adults (most in their mid-70s) with higher vitamin D levels had better physical function and muscle strength than those with low levels.

So please keep this in mind. Ideally, virtually everyone should be monitoring their vitamin D levels and taking the steps necessary to keep them in the optimal range (more on this below).

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Most Pregnant Women are Deficient … and African Americans May be Especially at Risk

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, 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.

New Research Confirms Pregnant Women Seriously at Risk

Pregnant women may need to consume 10 times as much food-based vitamin D than is currently recommended, and a new study by Dr. Hollis and colleagues confirmed the benefits of doing so.

Currently, guidelines recommend pregnant women consume from 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D a day, an amount that is far too low.

In the new study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, B.C., women who were at least 12 weeks pregnant took 400, 2,000 or 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day.

Those who took the highest amount -- 4,000 IU a day -- were the least likely to go into labor early, give birth prematurely or develop infections.

Unfortunately, according to a separate new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 97 percent of African Americans have vitamin D levels that are too low for optimal health, along with 90 percent of Mexican Americans and 71 percent of whites.

These are staggering numbers, but the good news is that vitamin D deficiency is incredibly easy to fix!

Getting Your Vitamin D Levels Into the Optimal Range

From my perspective, with the mountain of scientific evidence we now have on the benefits of optimal vitamin D levels in pregnancy it is reprehensible malpractice to not routinely check a pregnant woman's vitamin D level during the pregnancy.

Of course, it is still not the "standard of care" at this point and no physician will lose his license for failing to do this check, but you don't have to wait for the "standard of care" to catch up to reality. Make sure every pregnant woman you know monitors her vitamin D level during her pregnancy.

It is absolutely imperative that pregnant women maintain a vitamin D blood level of between 50 and 70 ng/ml of 25 hydroxy D, and I encourage you to watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels optimized.

In short, you will need to determine your level using a 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, blood test, and then use a combination of safe sun exposure and supplementation to keep your levels in the healthy range.

My recommended lab is Lab Corp, as they use the standard that all the major vitamin D studies used

Again, to get all the details you need, please watch my free vitamin D lecture. It is crucially important to your health and the future health of your children.

In addition, to further prove the links between vitamin D levels and healthy babies, GrassrootsHealth is looking for pregnant women, lactating women, and infants to participate in their Grassrootshealth D*action study.

For more information about this study and how you can save 15 percent off your vitamin D testing simply by being a Mercola subscriber, please see this link.

There is also now a special section of my website dedicated exclusively to keeping my readers updated on all the late-breaking vitamin D news. Please bookmark for articles, tips and an online forum that will help you avoid vitamin D deficiency and lead a healthier life.

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