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Fears for children of mums with low vitamin D

To the United Kingdom, where research shows that a lack of vitamin D in pregnant women can impact their child’s development…

Women who do not get enough vitamin D in pregnancy may have children with poorer social and motor skills, according to new British research. A new study from the universities of Surrey and Bristol found a lack of vitamin D in pregnancy has a negative effect on the social development and motor skills of preschool age children.

Publishing in the British Journal of Nutrition, the team examined data from more than 7000 mothers and their children. They found that pregnant women who were deficient in vitamin D (less than 50 nmol per litre in blood) were more likely to have children with low scores (in the bottom 25 per cent) in pre-school development tests than those whose mothers got enough.

The tests examined gross and fine motor development at age two-and-a-half. The tests included kicking a ball, balancing and jumping and using fine motor skills to hold a pencil and build a tower from bricks.

Those women who did not get enough vitamin D in pregnancy also had children whose social development was regarded as poorer at age three-and-a-half. However, there was no link between vitamin D intake and some skills at an older age, such as IQ and reading ability at ages seven and nine.

Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D for most people, but experts are unable to say how much sun is the “right amount”, owing to differences in how people’s bodies convert vitamin D. The vitamin is also found naturally in a small number of foods such as oily fish (including mackerel and fresh salmon and tuna), red meat, liver and egg yolks, and is added to some breakfast cereals and spreads.

Experts believe vitamin D and dopamine, a neurotransmitter released by the brain, interact during foetal development, playing a crucial role in the neurological development of brain areas controlling motor and social development.

“The importance of vitamin D sufficiency should not be underestimated,” said lead author Dr Andrea Darling, from the University of Surrey. “It is well-known to be good for our musculoskeletal systems, but our research shows that if levels are low in expectant mothers, it can affect the development of their children in their early years of life.”

She said although vitamin D is found in food, unless a large portion of oily fish (100g) is eaten every day “it is difficult to get the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms per day from food alone. However, it is important to remember that ‘more is not necessarily better’ and it is important not to take too much vitamin D from supplements as it can be toxic in very high doses.”

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