For pregnant women hoping to give birth to the next Einstein or Ada Lovelace, new research from Seattle Children’s Research Institute offers an exciting possibility. The study, which was published in The Journal of Nutrition, indicates that pregnant women with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to give birth to intelligent children than women with lower levels.
Vitamin D, which offers various health benefits for the body and is believed to help fend off COVID-19, is produced whenever your skin is directly exposed to sunlight. You can also increase your vitamin D levels by eating foods that are rich in the vitamin, such as mushrooms and salmon, or by taking supplements. The catch, however, is that maintaining high levels of vitamin D may require extra effort for some women, particularly women with darkly pigmented skin, research scientist and lead study author, Melissa Melough, PhD, RD, tells Eat This, Not That! (Related: 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be In Short Supply)
Using data from a previous study, Dr. Melough and her team examined associations between vitamin D levels in the blood of 1,503 women in their second trimester of pregnancy and the IQ scores of the children to whom they birthed. The IQ scores were measured between ages four through six via the Stanford-Binet intelligence test.
As noted, above, higher levels of vitamin D were associated with higher IQ scores, but what the researchers also discovered was significantly lower levels of vitamin D in Black women and others with darkly pigmented skin. This wasn’t entirely surprising to the researchers, who knew that darker skin contains more melanin, which reduces vitamin D production. However, what these findings highlight is that vitamin D in prenatal vitamins may not be enough to make up the disparity or to correct an existing vitamin D deficiency.
Currently, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is the same for all adults and is based on vitamin D’s role in supporting bone health—despite the fact that scientists now know that vitamin D is essential for many other functions, including babies’ brain development in utero. Dr. Melough hopes this study will help inform changes in prenatal nutrition recommendations, especially for Black women and others who may be at high risk for vitamin D deficiency.
“I also hope that our research will increase awareness among healthcare practitioners that vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women may have important, long-term consequences for their children,” Dr. Melough tells Eat This, Not That! “Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare providers to determine if additional vitamin D supplementation (beyond prenatal vitamins) may be advisable.”
For more tips, be sure to read the best foods to eat during pregnancy.