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May 13, 2011

Prenatal Vitamin D Prevents Infant Infections

A new study from the journal Pediatrics has demonstrated that women who take vitamin D during pregnancy have babies with a significantly lower chance of developing the common viral infection known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).  Infants deficient in vitamin D at birth had a 6-fold increased risk of getting RSV during the first year of life compared with babies with high vitamin D levels.

RSV typically causes cold-like symptoms in both children and adults.  It is extremely common (and most often benign) in children, but may progress to a more serious condition.  According to the CDC, when infants and children are exposed to RSV for the first time, 25% to 40% of them have signs or symptoms of bronchiolitis or pneumonia, and up to 1 in 50 will require hospitalization.  About 50% of all children who have been hospitalized for this virus go on to develop asthma-like symptoms after being discharged.
Naturopathic medicine offers a wide range of therapies to both prevent and treat childhood viruses like RSV.  Many naturopathic doctors recommend vitamin D supplementation as part of a comprehensive and individualized plan to support a balanced immune system, bone health, cardiovascular health, healthy skin, etc. There exists ongoing controversy over optimal dosing for vitamin D.  Some health groups advocate only 600 IUs of vitamin D3 daily, while many experts suggest doses as high as 4000-5000 IUs for the average adult.  In his research at the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Bruce Hollis found that pregnant women need at least 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D in order to maintain both their own vitamin D levels and that of their babies.  Based on his widespread findings of vitamin D deficiency among pregnant women, he states that an ideal dose is at least 5,000 IU per day.  

Recommended dosing for children is much lower than for adults.  A safe supplemental dose for infants is 400 IU daily (assuming they have nursing mothers who are not supplementing with vitamin D), while children over age 1 generally do well with a daily maintenance dose of 1000 IU and no more than 2000 IU.  Ideal dosing for all ages is dependent on the season, skin pigmentation, latitude, and total sun exposure.  Though it is essential for optimal functioning of the body and is extremely useful for numerous health conditions, vitamin D is a hormone and should be used with caution.  A simple blood test checking vitamin D levels can help you and your health care provider determine whether you (and your baby if you’re pregnant or plan to be) can benefit from vitamin D supplementation.  After  supplementation has been initiated, regular monitoring of vitamin D levels is recommended to both ensure adequate dosing and prevent toxicity due to overdosing.  

Dr. Shana McQueen