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Pregnant women ‘should supplement vitamin D’

Pregnant women should take steps to ensure they have adequate vitamin D in their diet, or they and especially their unborn children may run the risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and thyroid diseases.

Speaking at the British Endocrine Societies meeting in Birmingham, Dr Chantal Mathieu (University of Leuven, Belgium) said that research had shown that low levels of vitamin D are associated with autoimmune diseases. This is particularly important during pregnancy, when the nutritional requirement of the developing baby means that mothers can easily develop shortages of vitamin D.

In recent work Dr Mathieu has shown that giving vitamin D to mice who would normally develop type 1 diabetes has helped protect them against the onset of the disease.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor bone health and rickets, but much recent work has shown that people with vitamin D deficiency tend to have a poor immune system, and take longer to recover from infections.

Dr Mathieu said

There is now a lot of work showing that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a poor immune system. This makes it difficult to recover from infection, but it also seems to make you more likely to develop autoimmune diseases. Recently we have been able to prevent the development of type 1 diabetes in mice with a predisposition to develop the disease.

Pregnant mothers are particularly liable to develop vitamin D deficiency, and so they are at increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases through being pregnant.

There are two ways of ensuring you have enough vitamin D. You can make sure that you get an adequate amount of sunshine – bearing in mind that this has to be done sensibly, because too much sunshine can cause problems such as skin cancer. Or it might be easier simply to take vitamin supplements during pregnancy.

Jo Thurston | alfa
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