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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


SUN Country or Not: Vitamin D3 is Important

By Michael McBurney

From the beginning of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday (the first 1000 days of life) are important. Nutrition is essential for a normal, full-term pregnancy and the development of the child’s central nervous system (folic acid), brain (DHA), and vision (DHA, lutein, zeaxanthin).  

Preeclampsia is a life-threatening complication during pregnancy. It is typically diagnosed later in pregnancy with increases in blood pressure and urinary protein levels and fluid retention. Bodnar and colleagues report that mothers with low serum 25(OH)D3 levels (<50 nmol/L) during pregnancy are more likely to develop severe preeclampsia.  There was a 40% reduction in risk with higher serum vitamin D levels. Suboptimal vitamin D status is a global problem. People need to spend more time with skin exposure to sunshine or increase their dietary consumption of vitamin D.

Vitamin D can be found in two forms: D3 or cholecalciferol is present in animal and fish food sources.  D2 or ergocalciferol is found in plants. D2 can also be synthesized by UV irradiation of  yeast or mushrooms. Heaney et al (2011) found that D3 is more potent (87% more) than D2 in raising and maintaining serum 25(OH)D levels and that more  D3 is stored. In a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) comparing 1,000 IU D2 vs D3 for 25 weeks,  Logan et al (2013) found serum 25(OH)D3 levels to be 21 nmol/L higher in participants receiving D3.

Harvey et al (2013) reported that pregnant women having higher vitamin D intakes during pregnancy were more likely to have children with stronger muscles (N = 678 mother-child pairs). Maternal serum 25(OH)D3 concentrations during pregnancy were significantly correlated with height-adjusted grip strength and child percent lean mass; although the latter did not persist after adjustment for maternal confounding factors.  Nieman et al (2014) report that vitamin D2 supplementation in athletes depresses serum 25(OH)D3 levels, possibly accounting for amplified markers of muscle damage following eccentric exercise. All of these studies point to the superiority of vitamin D3 as a dietary vitamin source.

Whether you are living in a sunny country or a SUN country, the words at Scaling Up Nutrition can be applied with respect to vitamin D3 status:

When children are properly nourished they grow up to be healthy and productive.

When children are healthy and productive their families, communities and countries become stronger.

That’s why countries around the world have committed to making nutrition a priority.

 And why global partners are working to support the efforts of the countries.

Together, we can achieve what no single effort could, and make the world a healthier, stronger place for all of us.

Whether in the first 1000 days or last decade of life, don’t be a vitamin D statistic.

Main Citation

Bodnar LM, Simhan HN, Catov JM, Roberts JM, Platt RW, Diesel JC, Klebanoff MA. Maternal vitamin D status and the risk of mild and severe preeclampsia. 2014 Epidemiol doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000039

Other Citations

Harvey NC, Moon RJ, Sayer AA, Ntani G, Davies JH, Javaid MK, Robinson SM, Godfrey KM, Inskip HM, Cooper C. Maternal antenatal vitamin D status and offspring muscle development: Findings from the Southampton Women’s Study. 2013 JCEM doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-3241

Heaney RP, Recker RR, Grote J, Horst RL, Armas LAG. Vitamin D3 is more potent than vitamin D2 in humans. 2011 JCEM doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-2230

Logan VF, Gray AR, Peddie MC, Harper MJ, Houghton LA. Long-term vitamin D3 supplementation is more effective than vitamin D2 in maintaining serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status over the winter months. 2013 Br J Nutr  doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002851

Nieman DC, Gillitt ND, Shanely RA, Dew D, Meaney MP, Luo B. Vitamin D2 supplementation amplifies eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage in NASCAR pit crew athletes. 2014 Nutrients doi: 10.3390/nu6010063