Blame it on Canada’s watery winter sun, but women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need to take vitamin D supplements, according to human nutrition researcher Tim Green.
“Our preliminary data shows that Vitamin D levels in the mother’s blood are fairly low,” says Green, an associate professor in the Faculty’s Food, Nutrition and Health program and lead investigator of the study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
He explains that vitamin D is vital for bone health. Without it, babies can develop rickets, a condition when bones are too soft and do not form properly. Green’s research partners include the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre and the departments of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine
“Although we get a small amount of vitamin D from food, our bodies create it as it absorbs sunlight,” says Green. “And during the Canadian winter, especially in Vancouver, there isn’t enough sun for this to happen.”
Green is exploring how much vitamin D pregnant and breastfeeding women are currently getting and how much they should take as supplements to ensure health for themselves and their babies. The study makes use of donated supplements created by Natural Factors.
With more than 200 pregnant women as study participants, the research team is measuring the effect of vitamin D supplements on the growth of the baby and on the bone health of mother and baby.
As well, the study investigates the possible effect of skin colour on vitamin D levels. Skin with darker pigments, either naturally or from a tan, tend to absorb less light, and therefore affects the amount of vitamin D the body produces. Researchers will measure how much light is reflected by a person’s skin using a device called a colorimeter.