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High Doses of Vitamin D May Cut Pregnancy Risks

Study Shows 4,000 IU a Day of Vitamin D May Reduce Preterm Birth and Other Risks
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Fewer Complications With High Vitamin D Doses continued...

The research was presented over the weekend at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Infants with very low vitamin D levels are at increased risk for soft bones, or rickets -- a condition that is now rare in the U.S.

But over the last decade, more and more studies suggest that vitamin D also protects against immune system disorders and other diseases, Wagner says.

Fortified milk and fatty fish are common food sources of vitamin D, but most people get only a small fraction of the vitamin D they need through food, Wagner says. Instead, the body makes vitamin D from sunlight.

But even in sunny climates like Charleston, few people are now getting adequate levels of vitamin D from sun exposure.

At the start of the study, deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D were seen in 94% of the African-American women, 66% of Hispanic women, and 50% of white women who participated.

Vitamin D and Pregnancy: Is More Better?

University of Rochester professor of pediatrics Ruth Lawrence, MD, has been recording vitamin D levels in new mothers and their infants for three years. She did not take part in the new study.

Lawrence, who chairs the breastfeeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says exclusively breastfed babies whose mothers have low vitamin D levels and who don't take vitamin supplements are most likely to be deficient.

"It is clear that both for mothers and their babies, vitamin D levels are low," she tells WebMD. "This is true in northern areas like Rochester and in sunny climates like Charleston."

Lawrence sees no problem with the recommendation that women take 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily during pregnancy, although she says the impact of high doses of vitamin D on pregnancy-related complications remains to be proven.

"Four thousand IU may sound outrageous to some, but I believe it is really not unreasonable," she says.

"We have been searching for the causes of preeclampsia and premature birth for many years. It is reassuring that the risk of these complications are lower for women taking extra vitamin D, but it is premature to say it is the cause."

The independent health policy group the Institute of Medicine recommends 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D a day for everyone, including pregnant women, but this recommendation is under review. Revised guidelines are expected late this summer.

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