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Vitamin D Deficiency May Cause Preeclampsia

Katlyn Joy |14, February 2014


Preeclampsia is a serious condition in pregnancy that may be life threatening to mother and child. While certain risk factors are known, such as age (under 18 or over 40), sickle cell disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, obesity, first pregnancy, family history of preeclampsia, multiples, autoimmune disorders, chronic disease particularly hypertension, kidney disease or diabetes, a certain cause is more elusive.

A number of studies have pointed out dietary factors as being linked to preeclampsia, if not pinpointed as an actual cause. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, nutritional factors looked at as possible factors for the condition including deficiencies in protein, excess protein, or vitamin D deficiency.

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, found that having a diet sufficient in Vitamin D led to a 40 percent reduction in the incidence of severe preeclampsia.

Lead author, Lisa Bodner, PhD., M.P.H., R.D., and associate professor in Pittburgh's Public Health Department of Epidemology stated, "Over the past 10 to 15 years, scientists have learned that vitamin D has diverse functions in the body beyond maintaining the skeleton, including actions that may be important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy."

This study was performed by using 700 blood samples from pregnant women who later developed preeclampsia, as well as 3000 samples from women who did not develop the disorder. What is particularly noteworthy about this study is that it is one of the biggest studies done to date and funded by the National Institutes of Health. It also was done by blood samples collected between 1959 and 1965. However, the blood samples were well preserved for study.

Researchers ruled out other factors that could influence results such as race, pre-pregnancy BMI, physical activity, exposure to sunlight, smoking, and number of previous pregnancies.

Pointing out that the study only found a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and severe cases of preeclampsia, researchers noted that it's believed that severe preeclampsia and mild cases of the disorders have different causes.

Dr. Bodner is not yet advocating for routine Vitamin D supplementation, however. ""If our results hold true in a modern sample of pregnant women, then further exploring the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of preeclampsia would be warranted. Until then, women shouldn't automatically take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as a result of these findings."

A 2013 study found that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of preeclampsia and eclampsia 5 fold. The researchers in this study proposed supplementation in women with a high risk of developing the condition.

A 2007 study published in the Clinical Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism also determined in its results that Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of preeclampsia. Researchers advised Vitamin D supplementation in early pregnancy to prevent preeclampsia.

According to the Vitamin D Council's website, "The lower your vitamin D level, the more likely you are to develop preeclampsia." But, they warn that there may be another cause where the effects are both deficiency and preeclampsia. It doesn't hurt, though, to make sure your Vitamin D levels are optimal during pregnancy. However, they advise that even though your levels may be in the optimal range, "you may still develop preeclampsia."

The Vitamin D Council recommends speaking to your physician about your diet, sun exposure and Vitamin D levels. They warn that many women don't receive enough of the sunshine vitamin while pregnant.

Vitamin D is found in relatively few foods in nature, according to the National Institutes of Health. Those include fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna, and fish liver oil. Lower concentrations of D are also found in egg yolks, beef liver and cheese. Americans get most of the dietary Vitamin D from fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, cereals, yogurt and margarine.

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Preeclampsia: A Hidden Pregnancy Danger


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