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Researchers link vitamin D intake during pregnancy to children’s IQ scores

Study findings suggest that many women may have deficient levels of vitamin D

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Photo (c) batuhan toker - Getty Images
Vitamin D is a powerful supplement for pregnant women. Experts have found that higher levels of the vitamin can lead to better blood pressure outcomes for infants, while a lack of the vitamin can increase the likelihood of children developing ADHD

Now, researchers from Seattle Children’s Hospital have found that it can also affect kids’ cognitive development. According to their findings, higher vitamin D levels during pregnancy were linked with higher IQ scores during childhood. 

“Vitamin D deficiency is quite prevalent,” said researcher Melissa Melough. “The good news is there is a relatively easy solution. It can be difficult to get adequate vitamin D through diet, and not everyone can make up for this gap through sun exposure, so a good solution is to take a supplement.” 

Benefits of vitamin D

To understand how vitamin D levels during pregnancy could affect children’s intelligence, the researchers analyzed results from the Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood (CANDLE) study. The researchers looked at the mothers’ vitamin D levels during pregnancy and then assessed their children’s IQ scores between the ages of four and six years old. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that higher vitamin D levels were linked with higher childhood IQ levels. The researchers believe that vitamin D likely aids in brain development, which can contribute to better cognitive functioning and academic performance. 

Melough noted that 600 international units (IU) is the recommended daily dose of vitamin D. While diet and sunlight are helpful, a supplement is usually a good way for consumers to up their intake and reach these levels. 

Vitamin D deficiency  

Despite the positive associations that were linked with higher levels of vitamin D, the researchers explained that more than 45 percent of the women involved in the study were vitamin D deficient during pregnancy, and this risk was even higher for Black women. 

“Melanin pigment protects the skin against sun damage, but by blocking UV rays, melanin also reduces vitamin D production in the skin,” Melough said. “Because of this, we weren’t surprised to see high rates of vitamin D deficiency among Black pregnant women in our study. Even though many pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin, this may not correct an existing vitamin D deficiency.” 

The researchers hope that these findings highlight the importance of vitamin D during pregnancy and encourage more women to ask for prenatal screenings for vitamin levels to determine who is a prime candidate for a supplement. 

“I hope our work brings greater awareness to this problem, shows the long-lasting implications of prenatal vitamin D for the child and their neurocognitive development, and highlights that there are certain groups providers should be paying closer attention to,” said Melough. “Widespread testing of vitamin D levels is not generally recommended, but I think health care providers should be looking out for those who are at higher risk, including Black women.” 

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