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Vitamin D helps prevent HIV transmission from mother to child

By David Liu (davidl@foodconsumer.org)

A new study suggests that taking vitamin D supplements may help prevent the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from pregnant women to her child(s) and reduce child mortality.

Dr John Cannell, a vitamin D expert and president of vitamindcouncil.org, cited the study as finding that

1. at six weeks of age, infants from low maternal 25(OH)D HIV mothers had a 1.5 times increased risk of acquiring HIV through the birth canal.
 
2. at six weeks of age, infants from low maternal 25(OH)D HIV mothers had a 2.0 times increased risk of acquiring HIV through breast feeding.
 
3. at 24 months of age, toddlers from low maternal 25(OH)D HIV mothers had a 2.0 times increased risk of acquiring HIV through breast feeding.
 
4. at 24 months of age, toddlers from low maternal 25(OH)D HIV mothers had a 46% increased risk of having HIV.
 
5. at 24 months of age, toddlers from low maternal 25(OH)D HIV mothers had a 61% increased risk of dying.

The study was conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health including one of the most knowledgeable experts on vitamin D Dr. Edward L Giovannucci. The study was reported on Aug 18, 2009 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The researchers said vitamin D is a strong immunomodulator and may potentially protect against adverse pregnancy outcomes, HIV transmission from mother to child and lower child (MTCT) mortality.

The study of 884 HIV infected pregnant women who participated in a vitamin supplementation trial in Tanzania was meant to examine the possible effect of vitamin D on pregnancy outcomes and child mortality.

Maternal vitamin D was not associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight and preterm birth, the researchers found.

However, a low maternal vitamin D level (lower than 32 ng per ml) was correlated with a 50 percent higher risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV at 6 weeks, a 2-fold higher risk of MTCT of HIV through breast feeding among children who were not infected at six weeks, and a 46 percent higher overall risk of HIV infection. 

Children who were born to women with a low vitamin D levels were at 61 percent increased risk of dying during the study.

For more information on vitamin D, visit vitamindcouncil.org