Scientists have suggested that vitamin D supplements could potentially save the lives of mothers and babies by preventing pregnancy complications, in breakthrough research at the University of Birmingham.
The study, led by Professor Martin Hewison and Dr Jennifer Tamblyn, and funded by women’s health charity Wellbeing of Women, has implications that the sunshine vitamin is as vital as taking folic acid during pregnancy.
Vitamin D controls the immune system
Lack of sunlight means that vitamin D deficiency is very common in the UK and pregnant women are particularly at risk. However, it was previously unknown how this affected the mother and child.
For the first time, Wellbeing of Women researchers are investigating what vitamin D deficiency means for the mum and baby and whether the current recommended supplement dose is high enough. At the moment, expecting mums are advised simply to take the 10mcg supplement daily like the rest of the population which Dr Jennifer Tamblyn suspects is inadequate.
Dr Jennifer Tamblyn has shown that vitamin D controls the immune system in the placenta, meaning that when there are low levels of vitamin D, the placenta doesn’t function properly which can lead to complications such as a pre-eclampsia, foetal growth restriction, miscarriage and preterm birth.
A simple, inexpensive and safe vitamin D supplement could treat a whole range of pregnancy health issues.
The study also shows that vitamin D affects cells in the placenta that have an anti-inflammatory action too, so could be important in preventing the mum from rejecting the foetus.
Dr Tamblyn’s research is truly ground-breaking and may revolutionise our understanding of the importance of vitamin D for the placenta
Professor Martin Hewison, deputy director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham, who oversaw the work with Prof Mark Kilby at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, said: “This is unique research.
“For the first time, we are focusing on how important Vitamin D is for the health of the mother and baby by establishing the important role it plays in controlling the function of the placenta.
“We knew that taking Vitamin D in later pregnancy was important for the development of the foetal skeleton, but we now believe taking vitamin D supplements very early in pregnancy, or possibly even before conception, could help protect against pre-eclampsia and possibly other pregnancy complications, such as growth restriction and even miscarriage.”
This has been the first ever study of Vitamin D upon immune cells in the placenta and further information will be available following peer review publications of Dr Tamblyn’s research.
The news was welcomed by Vitabiotics* who supported the exciting research through Wellbeing of Women.
Vitabiotics Senior Vice President, Robert Taylor, said: “Pregnacare is delighted to support Wellbeing of Women, whose work is so important for the health of women and babies everywhere. Dr Tamblyn’s research is truly ground breaking and may revolutionise our understanding of the importance of vitamin D for the placenta and the heath of both baby and mother.”
*Vitabiotics Pregnacare generously supported this work through the charity Wellbeing of Women, which independently selected the research through its peer review process, Dr Tamblyn and her work was not impacted or influenced in any way by its sources of funding.