Vitamin D: Why It's Essential For All Of Us Especially During Pregnancy

by Serena Ma, ND, MS, LAc

Today's post is relevant to all of us.  I was just reminded by a patient of mine that she was looking for recommendations on vitamin D and that I haven't even blogged about this super trendy topic.  It's especially relevant because vitamin D is essential for immunity - which I am doing my best to keep boosted during pregnancy.  (As you would have guessed, I'm refused the flu shot this year.  In fact, I've never had a flu shot in my life, but I digress.....)

:: Vitamin D ::

We most often associate vitamin D as a vitamin that helps with calcium absorption (bone health). But we are realizing the far-reaching effects of vitamin D.  Here are just some:

  • Yes, we know about healthy bones!
  • It protects us from infection.  There are studies linking low vitamin D levels to a higher risk of catching the flu!  Vitamin D affects our "innate" immune system, our first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, by better activating the troops!
  • Vitamin D reduces inflammationshifting the production of certain immune cells from producing inflammatory markers to anti-inflammatory markers.  This is particularly important for those who suffer or at risk of autoimmune disease.  And in fact, those with autoimmune disease often have low vitamin D status.
  • Vitamin D lowers your risk of cancer and improves cancer survival!  One of the first levels I ask for for all my cancer patients is their vitamin D status - most need to supplement.
  • Vitamin D can alleviate musculoskeletal pain.  A researcher at Boston University (go Terriers, my alma mater) even says that low vitamin D is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia!
  • Correcting for vitamin D deficiency has also been shown to help with weight loss.

:: Pregnancy ::

So what about pregnancy?  I've mentioned already that it helps fight infection which is important during cold/flu season.  Other reasons:

  • Vitamin D may help prevent pre-term labor.
  • A deficiency of vitamin D in the first 26 weeks is related to a 40% increased risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy which could result in organ damage).

:: ::

I always recommend my patients to get their vitamin D level tested for (vitamin D, 25-OH).  The reference range is usually 30-100 but I like to see that number somewhere in the 40-65 ng/mL range. And yes, you can have too much vitamin D, which I have yet to see in my patients.   I most often see people who are very low, especially in the winter in those who do not supplement.

Of course, there are food sources like oily fish, portobello mushrooms, fortified cereals, tofu, dairy, pork, eggs, to name a few.  However I find it best (and easiest) to supplement - it's easy and inexpensive!  (Even I need to supplement to keep my levels optimal.)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so you will need to have have fat (eat with meals) for absorption, if you are taking a capsule form.  The liquid versions are usually in an oil emulsion so you can take that whenever.  

For most, I'm comfortable with a daily dose of 2000 IU per day, which is likely higher than what you'll find in your multivitamin.  However those who are low need to supplement with higher doses temporarily and should consult with their doctor.

Resources

Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the Immune System.” 

Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research 59.6 (2011): 881–886. 

PMC. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.