Bone density at age 20 linked to mother’s vitamin D status during pregnancy

7 March 2016  |  Editor

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Vitamin D during pregnancy helps bone development

A new study has shown that we need to start supporting our bone density much earlier that we imagined. We have known for some time that our bone density peaks in our 20s, and so it may be wise to actively nourish our bones through diet and weight-bearing exercise throughout our adult life. This study goes one step further, showing that the mother’s vitamin D status during pregnancy affects the health of her offspring’s bones in later years.

Vitamin D has long been known to assist calcium absorption and to help strengthen bones, and so is generally prescribed alongside calcium in cases of low bone density. We all know that prevention is better than cure, so a number of studies have set out to demonstrate whether keeping vitamin D levels at an optimum level will prevent bone conditions such as osteopaenia and osteoporosis, where mineral loss is measurable. Now it seems we need to look at addressing vitamin D levels even before we are born.

The study measured 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (blood serum levels of vitamin D) of 341 mothers when they were 18 weeks pregnant. They then measured bone mineral density and total bone body mineral content in their offspring when they were 20 years old. Both measurements were found to be directly correlated with their mother’s vitamin D status when they were still in the womb.

In fact, maternal vitamin D deficiency was associated with 2.7% lower total body bone mineral content and 1.7% lower total body bone mineral density in the offspring. The researchers concluded that “this may increase fracture risk in the offspring in later life.”

Unfortunately vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy is all too common. Belfast researchers measured a significant lack of vitamin D in the 99 pregnant women they studied. The study revealed that 35, 44 and 16% were classified as vitamin D deficient, and 96, 96 and 75% were classified as vitamin D insufficient at 12, 20 and 35 weeks respectively.

Vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy has also been linked to an increased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. In fact, a further study showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of pre-eclampsia by as much as 27%.