Vitamin D deficiency is known to play a role in the development of many diseases. Researchers determine if vitamin D exposure in utero could affect the risk for inflammatory diseases later in life.
Previous studies have shown that as much as half of the world’s population may be vitamin D deficient. This is important as vitamin D deficiency plays a role in many diseases including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression, and others. In particular, vitamin D levels may play a role in asthma. Because of this, researchers are studying whether prenatal vitamin D exposure may impact the child’s health later in life.
Blighe and colleagues published a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in which they investigated the effects of vitamin D supplementation in utero on blood metabolites in children. These metabolites represent the combined products of an individual’s genes and environment and can be a useful way to determine how nutritional supplementation is affecting that individual. The researchers chose a sample of 245 women who were in their first or second trimester and who had a history of asthma or related conditions. The women were randomly assigned to vitamin D supplementation or placebo and monitored for the duration of pregnancy, with follow-up on the children at 1, 2, and 3 years of age. Women in the supplement group received a daily dose of 4000 IU vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) plus a multivitamin containing 400 IU cholecalciferol. In their analyses, the researchers controlled for baseline vitamin D levels as well as a variety of socioeconomic factors.
Of the 245 children in the study, 34% had asthma. The researchers found that the children fell into one of three distinct clusters based on three metabolites. The primary determinant of these clusters was fatty acids, where the first cluster had the highest amount and the third cluster had the lowest. Amines and amine derivatives drove these clusters secondarily, where the first and second clusters had much higher quantities than the third cluster. Clusters at age 3 were significantly associated with whether a mother had received vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy, and in particular with her pre- and post-supplementation amount of vitamin D blood concentration. Individuals with the lowest vitamin D exposure in utero had the highest levels of certain fatty acids and amines and amine derivatives that have been linked to inflammation.
These results suggest that vitamin D levels in utero could have a substantial health effect later in life by mediating early metabolic set-points. However, further work will be needed to determine causality and to narrow down which aspects of metabolism are directly influencing disease risk. Children are divided into three distinct groups based on their metabolic profiles and these profiles are influenced by their vitamin levels during pregnancy. These metabolic profiles at age 3 years may be of importance for susceptibility to inflammation and other diseases later in life.
Written by C.I. Villamil
Reference: Blighe et al. 2017. Vitamin D prenatal programming of childhood […] Am Soc Nutrition.