Researchers have found that proper maternal serum 25(OH)-vitamin D concentrations are crucial to fetal development. Dr. Andrew J. O. Whitehouse, associate professor at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia, and colleagues published their work in a recent issue of Pediatrics.
Whitehouse et al. analyzed the serum 25(OH)-vitamin D concentrations from 743 Caucasian women. The concentrations were measured at 18 weeks pregnancy and grouped into quartiles. Using the Child Behavior Checklist, the researchers assessed offspring behavior at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, 14, and 17 years. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised was used to assess neurocognition at ages 5 and 10.
Although the researchers failed to find any significant associations between maternal vitamin D serum quartiles and offspring behavioral or emotional problems, Whitehouse and colleagues noted significant linear trends between quartiles of maternal vitamin D levels and language impairment. Specifically, they found that the risk of having a child with clinically significant language difficulties increased almost twofold in women with vitamin D insufficiency (defined as ≤46 nmol/L) during pregnancy as compared to women with vitamin D levels >70 nmol/L.
“Maternal vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy is significantly associated with offspring language impairment,” the authors concluded. “Maternal vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may reduce the risk of developmental language difficulties among their children.”
“The logical thought is that maternal vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy is affecting the normal course of brain development,” Whitehouse explained in a statement to the press. “Vitamin D performs a number of biological functions that are important for neurodevelopment, including promoting cell division and protecting against neurotoxins.”
“These results fit with the increasing recognition that adequate vitamin D levels are very important in fetal development,” he added. “We would like to see our findings replicated. Beyond that, the next step is to conduct randomized controlled trials to determine whether vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may help promote optimal development of the offspring.”