When planning for a baby taking care of yourself in the lead up to conception is just as important as taking care of yourself during pregnancy. The time before you conceive gives you an ideal opportunity to evaluate your nutrition and general lifestyle and make changes where necessary. Our Nutritionist Gaye Godkin looks at the latest research on the role of Vitamin D in relation to fertility, conception and pregnancy.
Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced by the body’s reaction to the sun. Despite its name, vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a prohormone, or precursor of a hormone. It has several important roles in the body including supporting the immune system as well as our bones, teeth and muscles. It also plays a role in the processes involved in cell division alongside our absorption of essential vitamins and minerals calcium & phosphorus. The world health organisation (WHO) recommends 15 minutes arms and legs exposure per day to get the amount of Vitamin D necessary for good health.
Vitamin D can be stored in the body for up to 60 days. Good food sources of Vitamin D include oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, egg yolk, liver, butter and dairy products. If you don’t eat oily fish it may be necessary to supplement, particularly for vegetarians and vegans.
Many factors can cause a vitamin D deficiency including not spending much time outdoors combined with the use of sunscreen and darker skin both of which reduce the body’s ability to absorb sunlight. Unfortunately, due to the northerly latitude of the UK and Ireland we do not get sufficient sunshine to produce enough vitamin D, especially during the winter months. As a result vitamin D is chronically lacking in the British and Irish population.
VITAMIN D & FERTILITY RESEARCH
Research has shown that a Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with several reproductive disorders, including miscarriage, preterm birth and reduced production of the sex hormones. In fact, research has discovered that vitamin D may play a regulatory role in female reproductive physiology, since vitamin D receptors and enzymes are expressed in the ovaries and the placenta. According to a study carried out in the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, pregnant women in Ireland have vitamin D intakes far below those recommended for the normal development of a child’s bones. Research found that the average dietary intake of vitamin D among pregnant women in Ireland was 80% below the recommended intake for an average adult. Therefore, it it essential we get enough of it!
Conceiving a baby is wonderful and enjoying a healthy pregnancy and having a healthy child is every parents wish. Research is now focusing on the lack of maternal vitamin D and the mother’s health. One such recent study from University College Cork has shown that expectant mothers with high levels of vitamin D are less likely to have pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Researchers also found that high vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of complications such as small-for-gestational age (SGA) at birth.
VITAMIN D & PREGNANCY
As the baby develops it is entirely dependent on the nutrients that its mother takes in, (No pressure!) therefore having sufficient nutrients during pregnancy is important. Vitamin D is responsible for regulating the functions of 100's of genes. It is imperative for the growth and development of the growing baby. It works with calcium to help the body build strong bones and to continue to maintain them. It is involved in brain development and supports muscle function, increasing the chances of having a happy healthy baby.
VITAMIN D & MALE FERTILITY
Until recently most of the vitamin D research has been focused on its impact on female fertility issues. Despite the prevalence of male infertility, and the established link between vitamin D status and male fertility, there is a lack of research regarding vitamin D in male partners of couples attempting pregnancy. In animal models, vitamin D deficiency in males has been found to result in low sperm count, impaired sperm motility and decreased pregnancy rates., some negative consequences which can be avoided with the adequate consumption of Vitamin D.
Since vitamin D receptors and enzymes are expressed in the testis and male reproductive tract, it is readily apparent that Vitamin D has a role to play in male reproductive physiology. The good news is, a recent study has concluded that there is a direct relationship between higher Vitamin D levels in male semen and increased rates of conception.
MAINTAINING VITAMIN D LEVELS
Its important for your overall health to ensure you maintain the appropriate levels of vitamin D. If you find yourself struggling to get enough of this sunshine vitamin, have a chat with your pharmacist or GP who can provide a vitamin D test and recommend a good supplement if required.
By: Gaye Godkin, Health Nutritionist, MPH Nutrition (Hons) DipNT cNLP