Health & Fitness

How vitamin D boosts children's intelligence

pregnant

A new study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that mothers’ vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with their children’s intelligence. FILE | NMG

Summary

  • A new study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that mothers’ vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with their children’s intelligence.
  • Despite the significance of vitamin D on maternal and child health, the study also identified significantly lower levels of the nutrient among dark-skinned women.
  • Researchers note that vitamin D is one of the most difficult nutrients to get in adequate amounts from our diets.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mercy is expecting her first child. She is excited to go through the experience and prepare for the baby.

Every day, Mercy prays for the success of the pregnancy and to give birth to a healthy baby who will do great things in life. Her dreams are similar to the desires that most parents have for their offspring.

“I want the child to have everything going for him in life. I want him to be smart, confident, outgoing and caring. This will make me happy,” she says.

According to health experts, pregnant women like Mercy need to be aware that the journey towards the improved well-being of children begins with the actions mothers take when babies are still in their wombs.

They note that a major action for mothers is the adoption of healthy balanced diets, which provide important nutrients required for improved pregnancy outcomes. Key among them is the vitamin D nutrient, which performs many crucial roles in the body.

A new study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that mothers’ vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with their children’s intelligence.

Based on the research, higher levels of the nutrient among expectant mothers may lead to improved brain development and greater childhood Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores.

Despite the significance of vitamin D on maternal and child health, the study also identified significantly lower levels of the nutrient among dark-skinned women.

This is due to the high levels of melanin (the pigment that gives skin colour), which are usually present in dark-skinned people compared to light-skinned people.

Melissa Melough, the lead author and research scientist in the Department of Child Health, Behaviour and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute states: “Vitamin D deficiency is common among the general population as well as pregnant women. But black women are at greater risk. Melanin pigment protects the skin against sun damage. But by blocking ultra-violet rays, melanin also reduces vitamin D production in the skin. Because of this, we weren’t surprised to see high rates of vitamin D deficiency among black pregnant women in our study.”

“I hope our work brings greater awareness to this problem, shows the long-lasting implications of prenatal vitamin D for the child and their neurocognitive [brain] development, and highlights that there are certain groups providers should be paying closer attention to. Wide-spread testing of vitamin D levels is not generally recommended, but I think health care providers should be looking out for those who are at higher risk, including black women,” said Melough.

Foods that contain higher levels of vitamin D include fatty fish, eggs and fortified sources like cow’s milk and breakfast cereals. However, Melough notes that vitamin D is one of the most difficult nutrients to get in adequate amounts from our diets.

The best source of vitamin D is the sun, which usually stimulates the production of the nutrient in the skin. People are thus encouraged to purposefully find time to bask in the sun and expose their skin to the heat each day for about 20 to 30 minutes (in the morning or afternoon).

Aside from Vitamin D, pregnant women are advised to build a healthy eating plan focusing on whole foods that give higher amounts of other nutrients required for the optimal functioning of the body.

They include protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fat (like olive oils, avocados or nuts) complex carbohydrates (like brown rice, sorghum or whole wheat products), fibre and fluids.

Once the child is born, exclusive breastfeeding, for the first six months also plays a significant role in boosting the intelligence of children.

Past studies have found that milk increases the levels of certain chemicals in babies’ brains that are linked to neurodevelopment.