More confirmation that the nutritional health of a pregnant mother affects the health of her developing child was recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology. Researchers at the University of Southampton in England found mothers who took vitamin D supplements during pregnancy substantially reduced the chances their baby would develop atopic eczema in their first year of life.
Experts say about one in six children under the age of five have atopic eczema and the number is growing. Atopic eczema is a non-contagious chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry, itchy skin. The skin can break and weep when scratched and that makes the sufferer more susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal skin infections.
The randomized, controlled trial involved more than 700 pregnant women. Half took 1000IU of vitamin D daily from their 14th week of pregnancy until delivery. The other half of the trial participants took a placebo.
The babies whose mothers took vitamin D had a significantly lower risk of atopic eczema in their first year. That was especially true for babies who were breastfed for more than a month after birth.
The study was part of the UK Maternal Vitamin D Osteoporosis Study (MAVIDOS) led by Southampton professor Keith Godfrey, who was assisted by Dr. Sarah El-Heis the first author of the report.
Dr. El-Heis says that their aim was, "To see whether taking 1000IU of Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) as a supplement during pregnancy would decrease the risk of atopic eczema in babies. We also wanted to establish whether breastfeeding had any effect on this."
El-Heis went on to say, "We found no effect at 24 and 48 months suggesting that other postnatal influences might become more important beyond infancy or that the babies themselves might also need to be supplemented during the postnatal period for a sustained effect."
The MAVIDOS study also found that taking vitamin D during pregnancy also had other long-lasting benefits. The children of mothers who supplemented their diet had increased bone density at the age of four.
"Vitamin D can affect the immune system and the proteins that make up our skin," Professor Godfrey said. "We were interested to know if Vitamin D supplements taken by pregnant women would have an impact on their child's risk of atopic eczema. Our findings showed a positive effect, which was more evident in infants that breastfed. This may reflect supplementation during pregnancy increasing the amount of Vitamin D in breast milk."