Powerful new evidence about the way that vitamin D can reduce the risk of premature births and boost the health of newborn babies has emerged from an international research conference in Bruges. Delegates were told that mothers who were given ten times the usual dose of vitamin D during pregnancy had their risk of premature birth reduced by half and had fewer small babies.
The findings emerge after evidence, revealed in The Times, that vitamin D — the “sunshine vitamin” — could have a dramatic effect in combating Scotland’s appalling health record. Statistics showing that Scots — particularly in the west — are exposed to less sunshine than those living farther south correlate exactly with higher incidences of heart disease, some cancers and multiple sclerosis. The Times has campaigned to have vitamin D recommended and prescribed as part of a national health programme.
The vitamin’s benefits have been observed previously in uncontrolled studies of pregnant women and babies, but this is the first time they have been found in a scientific trial which met the most stringent criteria for “evidence-based inquiry”. The findings may make it necessary for health departments to revise advice presently given to pregnant and breastfeeding women in the UK.
The investigators, Dr Bruce Hollis and Dr Carol Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, met rigorous safety tests which were required by the Federal Drug Administration. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The women, who all lived around Charleston, South Carolina, began taking 4,000 IUs per day of vitamin D after their first clinic visit at about three months of pregnancy. (4,000 IUs or international units equals 100 microgms). A control group took 400 IUs,equivalent to the normal recommended dose in the US and UK. The women had their blood and urine tested monthly to ensure calcium and vitamin D levels were within safe limits.