Any parent knows that having a healthy child, today and tomorrow, ranks at the very top of the wish list. And during pregnancy is where it all begins. The more we study the prenatal environment, the more we see how critical this period is.
Having good prenatal care, avoiding smoking and alcohol, eating right and taking a prenatal vitamin are all things any good mom does to help make a healthy child. But new research out of the British Medical Journal shows there might be one more thing a pregnant woman should do – take a vitamin D tablet.
That simple addition may prevent a child from getting multiple sclerosis as an adult.
MS affects the ability of the brain and the spinal cord to communicate with each other. Symptoms vary, but the disease can cause problems with walking, talking, swallowing and so on.
We don’t know what causes MS. Research points to genes as playing a role. Some studies suggest that there is an MS virus, but no one has found it yet.
Study after study also has shown that where you live may determine whether or not you get MS. The farther you are away from the equator, the more likely you are to get MS. The disease is much more common in the upper Midwest, Canada, England and Scandinavia than in Mexico, Greece or Ecuador.
Why? According to the recent study, vitamin D may be the issue. People in northern climates just don’t make enough of it, because of seasonal changes.
Researchers examined 150,000 MS sufferers, looking at which month they were born and even the season in which they were in the womb. The study limited data to cities that were far north of the equator, 52 degrees in latitude – London, Oslo, Moscow and Calgary all fit this description.
A person born in April was more likely to get MS. During the time their mother was pregnant, there was less sun – the long nights and short days of winter. If a person was born in October or November, which meant their mother’s pregnancy was during the summer, they were less likely to get MS.
Perhaps you are asking the same question my wife, Penny, asked: “What about prenatal vitamins? Don’t they contain vitamin D?”
Yes, they do. But the dose, which was set 50 years ago, may be too small.
My spin: I think the vitamin D-multiple sclerosis connection might just be real. For pregnancy, I would consider an additional 1,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D every day. I don’t think there’s a downside, and the upside might be just what you want – a healthy child who becomes a healthy adult.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.