70-80% of pregnant women suffer from Vitamin D deficiency

Deficiency is linked to pregnancy complications and future chronic diseases for unborn children

16:02 March 16, 2017

Abu Dhabi: Despite the risks to both pregnant women and their unborn children, up to 80 per cent of pregnant women in the country suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, medical experts said in the capital on Thursday.

This reflects a general trend of Vitamin D deficiency across the Middle East region, despite the year-round sunshine, and it could be linked to the prevalence of many chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, they added.

“We know that adequate levels of Vitamin D in pregnant women reduce the risk of preterm birth and preeclampsia (a pregnancy complication arising from elevated blood pressure that could prove fatal without treatment). But more importantly, a deficiency during pregnancy can increase the child’s risk of developing a number of chronic diseases in future, including autism spectrum disorders, depression and even Type 1 diabetes,” Dr Saleema Wani, chief of obstetrics at the Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.

“For their own health, and that of their future children, pregnant women should take Vitamin D supplements if they are deficient. It is easy to do this, but many women often do not check their levels of this vital chemical. Fortunately, awareness is on the rise now,” she added.

Dr Wani was speaking on the sidelines of the International Conference on Vitamin D Deficiency and Human Health. Hundreds of medical experts have gathered at the two-day meeting to discuss a growing medical understanding of the role of Vitamin D in promoting overall wellbeing.

About 70 to 80 per cent of the UAE’s population is believed to be Vitamin D deficient, although there have been no countrywide studies to confirm this estimate. A recent study of 1,087 pregnant women visiting primary healthcare centres in the Northern Emirates found that 69.3 per cent had severely low levels of Vitamin D, or less than 30 nanomoles per litre of blood, said Dr Salah Elbadawi, public health consultant at the Dubai Health Authority. Another 22 per cent of the women surveyed had insufficient Vitamin D, ranging between 30 and 50 nanomoles per litre.

In addition to its role in enabling healthy bone and skin development, Vitamin D has increasingly been linked to cardiovascular, nephrological, neurological and mental health. Experts even believe that Vitamin D deficiencies could be associated with diabetes and obesity risk.

According to international recommendations, the easiest way to bring up low levels of Vitamin D levels is taking supplements. A dose of 10,000 international units per week is sufficient, or even 4,000 international units every day.

“There are even vegetarian forms of the vitamin, and this dosage is completely safe. But the best thing to do is to get 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure, without the use of sunscreen, for the arms, face and hands between 11am and 4pm. During this time, small children should be allowed to wear minimal clothing, and that is why a trip to the beach is a great idea,” Dr Wani recommended.

In addition, a diet containing plenty of fish, cod liver oil and Vitamin D-fortified milk, is also advised.

“I would urge everyone, especially those who feel fatigued and have pain in their bones, to get their levels checked,” Dr Wani added.