Pregnant woman and her childVitamin D is associated with strong bones and teeth and is often added to milk, dairy, and cereal products to boost absorption of calcium. New research indicates a mother’s exposure to vitamin D during pregnancy makes her children’s muscles stronger, too. Vitamin D is created naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight but deficiencies are common in northern climates where long, dark winters limit a person’s exposure to sunlight.

Medical researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom (UK) have recently announced that the findings of a long-term study will be published in the January 2014 edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Their study involved measuring the vitamin D levels in the bloodstreams of 678 mothers during late stages of pregnancy and the muscle strength of the children they bore when the children were 4 years old.

The research team measured the children for muscle mass and grip strength. The difference in the strength of the children’s grip showed the strongest correlation to their mother’s vitamin D levels during pregnancy. The more vitamin D a mother consumed, the stronger her child’s grip.

The difference in the children’s muscle mass also coincided with their mother’s vitamin D levels during pregnancy although the variation in this measurement was not as marked as that of grip strength.

Tests of the grip strength and muscle mass of these children will continue at intervals in the future to assess the long-term effect of their exposure to vitamin D in the womb. If the added strength continues through childhood and into adulthood, the research team suggests the trend could continue even into old age, when loss of muscle tone and grip strength make a person more prone to injury from falls and complicates the symptoms of diabetes.

It is common for young women in the UK to be deficient in vitamin D, making dietary supplementation all the more important. Although supplementation isn’t common in the young women of the UK, taking vitamin D supplements before and during pregnancy might enhance the health of their children throughout the children’s lives.

This study of vitamin D during pregnancy and muscle strength in children is part of a long-term study headquartered at the university’s Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit. The program is designed to study how a woman’s diet and lifestyle during pregnancy influence the life-long bone development and body composition of the children she bears.

Source: “Higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy could help babies become stronger.” EurekAlert! (press release). AAAS, the science society. Jan 3, 2014. Web. Jan 7, 2014.