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Pitt study: Lack of Vitamin D complicates pregnancy

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2007

The risk of preeclampsia -- a serious pregnancy complication -- increases five-fold when women are deficient in vitamin D early in pregnancy, the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences reported this morning.

"Women who developed preeclampsia had vitamin D concentrations that were significantly lower in early pregnancy compared to women whose pregnancies were normal," Lisa M. Bodnar, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said in a news release.

Preeclampsia is marked by soaring blood pressure and swelling of the hands and feet. It is the leading cause of premature delivery and maternal and fetal illness and death worldwide, projected to contribute to at least 76,000 deaths each year. It affects up to 7 percent of first pregnancies.

Bodnar and her colleagues evaluated data and banked blood samples taken from women and newborns between 1997 and 2001 at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. Data were analyzed for 1,198 women enrolled in the Pregnancy Exposures and Preeclampsia Prevention Study. Out of this group, 55 cases of preeclampsia and 220 controls were selected for further study.

After accounting for known preeclampsia risk factors, such as race, ethnicity and pre-pregnancy body weight, Bodnar found the link between vitamin D deficiency and the five-fold increase in preeclampsia. This was despite the women reporting that they took prenatal vitamins, which contain high amounts of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is associated with bone heath. Deficiency early in life is associated with rickets and an increased risk for type 1 diabetes, asthma and schizophrenia.

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