Data Suggests Prenatal Vitamin D Reduces a Child’s Risk of Asthma
Vitamin D is a nutrient from sunlight exposure, diet, or supplements. It is commonly considered essential to bone health but also has a role in autoimmune and other illnesses. The review links vitamin D deficiency to childhood asthma and wheezing, a major cause of illness in young children. About 40% of kids report daily wheezing at age three. By age 6, 20% are diagnosed with asthma.
The link between childhood asthma and vitamin D has been contentious. Observational studies suggest that higher vitamin D levels during pregnancy can be protective against asthma. However, a clinical trial of vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy, called the Vitamin D Antenatal Asthma Reduction Trial (VDAART), was inconclusive when comparing the supplemented group to the non-supplement group.
A new paper strengthens the link between vitamin D levels during pregnancy and childhood wheezing and asthma in offspring.
“Vitamin D deficiency is very common, especially in pregnant women who are not taking supplements,” study first author Scott T Weiss, said. “Based on our findings, we would recommend that all pregnant women consider a daily intake of at least 4400 IU vitamin D3 throughout their pregnancy, starting at the time of conception.”
Understanding the role of a nutrient during pregnancy requires consideration of the nutrient dose, the timing of when dosing starts, and the baseline levels in the control group.
Pregnant women with a family history of allergy or asthma enrolled in the original VDAART study between 10 and 18 weeks of pregnancy. Half of the women were given a dose of 4400 IU of vitamin D in addition to the 400 IU of vitamin D in their prenatal vitamin. The other half got placebos alongside their prenatal vitamins.
The VDAART findings at age three, published in JAMA in 2016, showed a 20% reduction of asthma in the treatment group, with borderline statistical significance. The results were even less significant at age six, published in the NEJM in 2020.
“But, when we stratified the results by the vitamin D level in the control group, both of those analyses became significant,” Weiss said. “When you adjust for baseline vitamin D levels, we see exactly the effect in the observational studies — a 50% reduction in asthma and wheezing.”
Weiss’s group published the age three reanalysis in PLoS One in 2017 and the age six data in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2023. The latest review article summarizes these studies as well as genetic findings that further strengthen the possibility of a causal relationship between vitamin D and asthma and suggests several considerations for planning a follow-up study.
Scott T. Weiss, Hooman Mirzakhani, Vincent J. Carey, George T. O’Connor, Robert S. Zeiger, Leonard B. Bacharier, Jeffrey Stokes, Augusto A. Litonjua. Prenatal vitamin D supplementation to prevent childhood asthma: 15-year results from the Vitamin D Antenatal Asthma Reduction Trial (VDAART). Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2023.10.003
Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Clinical trial data suggests prenatal vitamin D reduces a child’s risk of asthma.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/11/231109121456.htm>.
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch