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New Campaign Aims to Resolve Vitamin D Deficiency Among Pregnant Women and Children

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  • Your body’s cells need the active form of vitamin D to gain access to the genetic blueprints stored inside them. This is why vitamin D has such a potent impact on such a wide variety of health problems
  • When pregnant, you need a vitamin D level above 50 ng/ml to protect yourself and your baby from serious complications, such as premature delivery and preeclampsia
  • Protect Our Children NOW! is a public health campaign aimed at raising global awareness about the health risks of vitamin D deficiency and provide information a woman can use to optimize her vitamin D status

By Dr. Mercola

Thousands of studies have been done on the health effects of vitamin D, and research shows that it is involved in the biochemical function of all cells and tissues in your body, including your immune system and function.

When you're deficient in vitamin D, your health can deteriorate in any number of ways, because your cells actually need the active form of vitamin D to gain access to the genetic blueprints stored inside the cell.

This is why vitamin D has such a potent impact on such a wide variety of health problems—from fetal development in the womb to cancer. Unfortunately, despite being easily and inexpensive to address, vitamin D deficiency is epidemic around the world.

It has been estimated that if vitamin D levels were raised among the general population, it could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year.

Raising vitamin D levels among pregnant women is of particular concern, as deficiency affects not only the mother, increasing her risk of complications during pregnancy or delivery, it also has short- and long-term ramifications for her child's health.

The Protect Our Children NOW! campaign, as discussed in the featured video, has been launched to combat the problem of rising vitamin D deficiency among pregnant women, not only in the US, but around the world.

Vitamin D Deficiency Around the World

Even the Indian Medical Association recently organized continuing medical education to address the rise of vitamin D deficiency in their sun-soaked nation. Endocrinologist Dr. Sanjay Badada told Times of India:1

"Vitamin D deficiency is rapidly gaining epidemic proportions yet it is the most under-diagnosed and under-treated nutritional deficiency in the world.

In our experience, 40 percent to 50 percent patients get diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency as a part of their normal routine tests with no apparent symptoms.

On the other hand, 80 percent to 90 percent of patients who come in with musculoskeletal complaints such as back pains, unexplained muscle pains, or general fatigue suffer from Vitamin D deficiency."

Vitamin D was also discussed at the 2015 European Congress of Endocrinology. One talk2 addressed the "Mediterranean paradox," as researchers have tried to understand why as many as 90 percent of pregnant mothers (and their newborns) in the sunny Mediterranean region are deficient in vitamin D.

A systematic review looking at 15 studies concluded that predictors of low maternal vitamin D concentration included dark skin and sartorial habits—meaning the manner in which they dress, or in this case, being too covered up, preventing sun exposure on bare skin.

Moreover, vitamin D supplementation was very low, and few pregnant women met the recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium and vitamin D.

The Importance of Vitamin D During Pregnancy and Childhood

I firmly believe optimizing your vitamin D during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your child. When a child is born deficient in vitamin D, his or her health can be significantly affected in any number of ways.

Research confirms there is a lifelong impact of vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy ranging from childhood allergies to asthma, colds and flu, dental cavities, diabetes, and even strokes and cardiovascular disease in later life of the child.

Adolescents who are vitamin D deficient are at increased risk of arterial stiffness, which can lead to a future stroke or heart attack. While teens who are obese and have type 2 diabetes are at greatest risk, even lean adolescents are at risk if they're lacking in vitamin D, recent findings suggest.3,4

Other recent research shows that vitamin D deficient children have reduced lung function compared to peers with sufficient levels. As reported by To Your Health:5

"Researchers tested children ages 5-18 and found that the mean forced vital capacity (breathing in) was 53.4 mL, and the mean forced expiratory volume (breathing out) in 1 second was 48.2 mL lower for children with insufficient serum 25(OH)D (vitamin D) levels compared with those with sufficient 25(OH)D (vitamin D) levels."

Widespread vitamin D deficiency may also be a culprit in the United States' abysmal maternal health rating.

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US Ranks Worst Developed Country for Maternal Health

According to the latest annual Save the Children report6 on the health of mothers around the world, the US ranks worst among developed countries. Pregnant American women face a one in 1,800 risk of dying and, as reported by Time magazine:7

"[T]hey're more than 10 times as likely to die from a cause related to pregnancy as those in Belarus, Poland, and Austria.

The State of the World's Mothers 2015 report, a global index that ranks the best and worst places to be a mother based on the latest available data on indicators like political status, economics, education, children's well-being, and maternal health, ranks the US at No. 33 of 179 surveyed countries—down two spots from last year."

Research8 by Drs. Hollis and Wagner has revealed a number of reasons for addressing any vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy, including the following:

In the US, more than 11 percent of all births (more than 448,000 as of 2013) are preterm, i.e., born at less than 37 weeks gestation. Mothers who took 4,000 IU's (6 times the RDA of 600 IU) of vitamin D during pregnancy, to get to a level of at least 40 ng/ml, had their risk of premature birth reduced by half. The cost of each preterm birth based on March of Dimes data is approximately $55,000 for a total annual cost of over $12 Billion, which means vitamin D optimization during pregnancy could save $6 billion per year

Women getting to the 40 ng/ml levelhad 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

Premature babies born to women achieving the 40 ng/ml levelwere reduced by half at both 32 and 37 weeks

Many other comorbidities of pregnancy were reduced by 30 percent in the women who achieved this level. (Including diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia -- a potentially deadly increase in blood pressure and fluid accompanied by low platelets)

Fewer babies were born "small for dates"

Babies getting the highest amounts of vitamin D after birth had fewer colds and less eczema

According to previous studies,9 your levels need to be above 50 ng/ml to protect your baby from serious complications, such as premature delivery and preeclampsia. So please, if you're pregnant, make sure to get your 25 hydroxy D levels checked. Dr. Bruce Hollis' research indicates that 50 percent of women can achieve this level with 4,000 during pregnancy and 6,400 IU's (for nursing mothers) of vitamin D3 respectively on a daily basis.

Testing is important to see what your level is so you can adjust your dosage to fit your body's requirements. The NOAEL (No observed adverse effect level) specified by the Institute of Medicine is 10,000 IU/day.10 The actual dose required to achieve the 40 ng/ml level should be below that.

Protect Our Children NOW! Campaign Launches in South Carolina

Protect Our Children NOW! is a public health campaign aimed at raising global awareness about the health risks of vitamin D deficiency and provide information a woman can use to optimize her vitamin D status, thereby protecting not only herself, but her children as well.

The project was initiated by Carole Baggerly of GrassrootsHealth,11 which has a panel of 42 vitamin D researchers that provide scientific advice; Dr Robert P Heaney of Creighton University is the Research Director and Dr. Cedric Garland is the organization's Principal Investigator. Dr Carol Wagner, featured in the video above, is the lead Principal Investigator for this project.

The Protect Our Children NOW! project aims to address the vitamin D deficiency epidemic among pregnant women and children by engaging women in "a value changing project of Good Health vs 'Treating Illness.'"

In other words, optimizing your vitamin D status helps improve your health and prevent disease, which is a lot easier and less expensive than waiting for something to go wrong and then trying to treat the problem. Optimizing your vitamin D can be outright lifesaving — particularly when you're pregnant.

In the US, premature births have risen 36 percent over the past 25 years. Each year, more than half a million preemies are born, and it's the number one killer of newborns. It's also the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five. Vitamin D could likely prevent half of all these premature births.

It can also cut your risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and prenatal infections by approximately 50 percent. Among African American and Hispanic populations, approximately 70-75 percent of all preterm births could be prevented with vitamin D optimization. Vitamin D screening is key. All pregnant women participating in the Protect Our Children Now! program will be tested at approximately 12-17 weeks of pregnancy, 24 weeks, and 36 weeks.

This is the only way to determine whether you might be deficient or not, and regular testing is important to make sure whatever dosage of vitamin D you're taking is sufficient to reach clinically relevant levels. GrassrootsHealth recommends maintaining a vitamin D blood serum level of 40-60 ng/ml to protect your and your baby's health.

Pregnant South Carolina Women—Join Protect Our Children NOW!

Protect Our Children NOW! is being implemented with the Medical University of South Carolina, Select Health of South Carolina insurance company, Eau Claire—a Federally Qualified Health Care Center (FQHCC)—and the general public. South Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is also working to support the project by making sure vitamin D supplements are made available to pregnant women.

If you are 12-17 weeks pregnant and currently reside in a participating South Carolina community (Charleston area), you may enroll in this fully sponsored project at no cost to you. Participation in the program includes:

  • Free vitamin D serum tests (either blood spot or in MUSC clinic)
  • Your and your newborn's new questionnaire entries
  • Reporting of results directly to you
  • Free vitamin D from Bio-Tech Pharmacal
  • Free use of your HYLION Interactive Health Campus providing opportunities for engagement in health education and measurement for your action. There is also contact with experts and other participants for additional support and guidance during this time.
Enroll in Protect Our Children NOW! Program
Click Here

The project will enroll 500 pregnant women in any community to create a community demonstration project, putting into place the components to make sure vitamin D testing and supplementation continue to take place.

The demonstration is expected to take about 24 months, after which the process will become available to the entire community, as the project components are designed to be integrated into existing wellness and health programs, opposed to being a stand-alone project. Communities in Alaska and Montana are also taking steps to integrate this project into their wellness plans. If you want to contact GrassrootsHealth about this project, you may email Jen Aliano, Project Manager, at: [email protected].

Healthcare providers may also receive level 1 and level 2 Protect Our Children NOW ! certification by completing an online continuing medical education (CME) course. The CMEs are free of charge, made available through the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Health outcomes of mothers and children will be tracked to demonstrate the results of vitamin D optimization during pregnancy and to monitor for any unusual conditions.

As noted by GrassrootsHealth: "The tracking is critical not only to the health of the individual but to the scientific validity of the results for the community. The results of the program will be fully reported in the scientific literature and to the community to aid in the further reduction of the vitamin D deficiency and the realization of benefits."

Over the past decade, over 1,000 pregnant women have been studied in the South Carolina area, and extensive deficiency has been detected, particularly among African American women. In this group, 75 percent are vitamin D deficient, using the very conservative rate of 20 ng/ml. (Research by GrassrootsHealth suggests the minimum level really should be 40 ng/ml, so 20 ng/ml is a rather severe deficiency.)

About 22 percent of Caucasian women are also deficient, and as explained by Dr. Carol Wagner in the video above, the primary culprit is sun avoidance—either rarely spending time outside in the sun, or covering up your skin with too much clothing and/or sunscreen when outdoors. If you cannot get a sensible amount of sun exposure, you need to take a vitamin D3 supplement.

Vitamin D Plays a Significant Role in Your Health

The list of health benefits of vitamin D is long. As noted at the beginning, researchers have now realized that vitamin D affects virtually every cell and tissue in your body, so it might be easier to list what it will not affect, rather than what it will impact... That said, if you suffer from any of the following ailments and still haven't checked your vitamin D level, now may be the time to go ahead and do so, as research12 into vitamin D has found it can help prevent and/or address:

Osteoporosis, osteomalacia (bone softening), and hip fractures

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Cancer, including cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, ovaries, esophagus, and lymphatic system. Recent research also suggests that adding vitamin D to the conventional treatment for pancreatic cancer helps boost the effectiveness of the treatment13

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. (According to vitamin D researcher Dr. Michael Holick, deficiency can raise your risk of heart attack by 50 percent. If you have a heart attack and you're vitamin D deficient, your risk of dying is upwards of 100 percent!)

Rheumatoid arthritis

Multiple sclerosis (MS)14

Reduced immune function

Autoimmune diseases

Infections, including influenza

Depression,15,16 Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia

Autism and other neurological disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer's17,18

Compelling evidence suggests that optimizing your vitamin D can reduce your risk of death from any cause,19 making it a foundational component of optimal health.

Other recent research20 shows that mega-doses of Vitamin D helps decrease the length of time critical care patients must remain hospitalized. Those who received 250,000 IUs for five days were released after an average of 25 days, compared to the average 36 days for those receiving placebo. Patients who received 500,000 IUs of vitamin D for five days were released after an average of just 18 days—effectively cutting their hospital stay in half.

The health care savings in this instance alone are tremendous. When you add in all possible diseases and ailments vitamin D can prevent and/or ameliorate, the savings could potentially tally into the trillions each year. Certainly for the average person, optimizing your vitamin D level is one of the least expensive preventive care strategies at your disposal.