Relationship Between Vitamin D During Perinatal Development and Health

Jovana Kaludjerovic, MSc; Reinhold Vieth, PhD


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010;55(6):550-560. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Vitamin D deficiency is a highly prevalent condition that is present in 40% to 80% of pregnant women. There is emerging evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk modifying factor for many chronic diseases, including osteomalacia, rickets, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and cancer. Heightened susceptibility to these diseases may originate in early life during the development of tissue structure and function. It is suspected that biologic mechanisms can "memorize" the metabolic effects of early nutritional environment through fetal and neonatal imprinting. Inadequate vitamin D nutrition during perinatal life may establish a poor foundation that may produce long-term threats to human health. This review summarizes the risks of vitamin D deficiency for human health and provides the current vitamin D recommendations for mothers and their newborns.


The United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition has proposed that a window of opportunity exists from prepregnancy to 24 months of a child's life during which nutrition can affect the structural and functional development of an organism.[1] Such changes in structural or functional development can result in long-term consequences on human health.[2] Vitamin D, a fat-soluble molecule acquired through exposure to sunlight or diet, has been identified as a steroid hormone precursor that modulates long-term programming of human health. Low vitamin D intakes during perinatal development have traditionally been linked to poor bone health. However, scientists are beginning to realize that vitamin D deficiency during perinatal development is a risk modifying factor for a range of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and cancer.

Historically, humans obtained most of their vitamin D through sun exposure. However, in contemporary society, sun avoidance and the use of topical sunscreen are strongly encouraged because of the association of sun exposure with skin cancer. To sustain adequate vitamin D levels in such an environment, oral consumption of vitamin D is required. However, very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources.[3] Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, egg yolk, and some forms of mushrooms.[3] Given the importance of vitamin D and its lack of availability from the sun and diet, vitamin D supplementation is required. This need is even more significant during sensitive stages of development, such as the prenatal and neonatal stages of life.

The purpose of this review is to illustrate that inadequate vitamin D nutrition during perinatal development is a threat to human health and to provide health care professionals with current recommendations for vitamin D supplementation.


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