Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should increase their vitamin D intake to 2,000 IU (international units) per day, says the Canadian Pediatric Society.
This controversial new recommendation is based on a growing body of evidence that increased exposure to vitamin D during key stages of fetal and infant growth may reduce the risk of certain diseases later in life.
In a review of the current research, the authors concluded that vitamin D is an important nutrient for brain development and may also help build tolerance against autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Several studies have also linked low of vitamin D levels to increased risk of certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and asthma.
Few studies have been conducted on pregnant and lactating women. However, one researcher found that vitamin D may against uterine infections that can lead to pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy.
The current "official" recommended intake for Canadian women who are pregnant and lactating is 200 IU of vitamin D daily. In June 2007, the Canadian Cancer Society advised all Canadians to consume 1,000 IU during the fall and winter months, and all year round for those who don't receive sun exposure - without the use of SPF sunscreen - in the summer.
Health Canada has not adopted this advice but is conducting a thorough review of the literature supporting the benefits and safety of increased vitamin D consumption.
Since no toxicity studies have been done on pregnant or lactating women, the Canadian Pediatric Society has advised women to have their blood levels of vitamin D monitored regularly if they choose to increase their intake of vitamin D.
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