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Vitamin D can save half million babies each year: study*

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Friday Oct 16, 2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- Results of a new trial presented at an international research conference in Bruges suggest that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of premature births and boost the health of newborn babies, the Times reported Oct 10.

Vitamin D deficiency, which is common everywhere, has been linked in many previous studies to a variety of illnesses from heart disease, cancers,  multiple sclerosis and many others.

In the trial, Dr. Bruce Hollis and Dr. Carol Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, gave one group of pregnant women 4,000 IUs per day of vitamin D at about three months of pregnancy. They gave a second group 400 IUs per day, amounts recommended by U.S. and UK governments.

Trial participants were monitored by testing their blood and urine samples to make sure calcium and vitamin D levels were within safe ranges. No side effects were observed in either group and vitamin D levels in the women's blood increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers found pregnant women who took 4000 IUs of the sunshine vitamin per day reduced their risk for premature birth by half compared to the controls and they were less likely to have small babies.

Women on the high-dose vitamin D3 supplements compared with those on low dose-vitamin D supplementation were at a 25 percent reduced risk for infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu as well as infections of the vagina and the gums.

Women taking high doses of vitamin D also showed reduced risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. In addition, babies getting the most vitamin D after birth were less likely to experience colds and eczema.

In another trial, the researchers found that supplementation of 6,400 IUs per day in breastfeeding women provided infants with sufficient vitamin D for their babies, 400 IUs per day.

"I’m telling every pregnant mother I see to take 4,000 IUs and every nursing mother to take 6,400 IUs of vitamin D a day," said Dr Hollis. "I think it is medical malpractice for obstetricians not to know what the vitamin D level of their patients is. This study will put them on notice."

The March of Dimes said Sunday, cited by CNN News, that "more than 1 million babies born prematurely die each year before they are a month old." Globally, about 12.6 million babies are born prematurely or before 37 weeks of development in the womb.

This means that taking high dosages of vitamin D, like 4,000 IUs per day as used in the current trial, can save the lives of at least half million babies each year.

Vitamin D is rarely found in foods except in a few fortified with vitamin D and a few in nature such as fatty fish, mushroom and egg yolk. No one should expect to get enough vitamin D from fortified foods like orange juice or milk.

The best source of vitamin D is ultra-violet rays in sunshine which trigger synthesis of vitamin D.  Many people try to avoid sunshine fearing that ultraviolet rays increase risk of skin cancer.  But lack of sun exposure can lead to vitamin D deficiency which increases risk of at least 17 types of more serious cancers.

Vitamin D deficiency syndrome is a condition in which a person is found to have less than 25 ng/mL of 25 (OH)D in their blood and also have two or more of the following health conditions: osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, depression, chronic fatigue, or chronic pain, according to Dr. John Cannell, a vitamin D expert and president of the Vitamin D Council.

By David Liu - davidl at foodconsumer dot org and editing by Sheilah Downey - sheilahd at foodconsumer dot org

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