Like calcium, vitamin D is essential for bone health. The vitamin helps lower a person's risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer. Vitamin D also promotes calcium absorption in the stomach and intestines.
When you're exposed to sunshine, most of the vitamin D that you get is made in the skin. However, if you spend most of your time indoors and you get little or no sun exposure, you should consult a physician or dietitian about your vitamin D needs.
Food sources rich in vitamin D include fortified cereals, juices, and milk. Fish such as salmon and tuna are also full of vitamin D.
Pregnant women need to monitor their vitamin D levels, especially since deficiencies in the vitamin are common in individuals who live in colder climates where sun exposure is severely limited.
Data suggests that vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women could increase their risk of giving birth to children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, which are both on the rise worldwide.
Since vitamin D influences calcium signaling inside your body, it significantly affects brain development in developing fetuses, particularly the differentiation, maturation, and growth of neural cells.
In a 2016 study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers analyzed over 4,000 blood samples from pregnant women. They found that pregnant women who were vitamin D deficient at 20 weeks gestation had a higher risk of having a child who would be on the autism spectrum by age six. (Related: BREAKTHROUGH: Vitamin D supplements taken during pregnancy found to prevent autism in children.)
Meanwhile, in a 2018 study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers identified a similar link between vitamin D deficiency and schizophrenia. This condition involves symptoms such as auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, and other cognitive impairments.
In a study conducted by researchers from Australia and Denmark, they discovered that newborn babies with low vitamin D levels had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia as they aged. The scientists posited that a vitamin D deficiency could be behind about 8 percent of all cases of schizophrenia in Denmark.
These results are in line with earlier studies, which suggest that individuals who are either born in the winter or spring or who live in a high latitude country – thus finding adequate and direct sunlight exposure hard to come by – have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
Even if you live in countries with colder climates, there are natural ways to boost your vitamin D levels. In a 2016 study about maternal vitamin D, researchers advised that gestational vitamin D deficiency can be prevented by taking supplements.
Other ways of getting vitamin D include exposing yourself to sunlight for at least 10 to 20 minutes daily and consuming foods rich in vitamin D, such as eggs, fatty fish, and mushrooms. If you're trying to conceive or if you're already pregnant, try any of these ways to ensure you meet your vitamin D requirement.
On average, you need about 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D. Consult a physician to determine if you need to increase your intake, especially if you have medical conditions.
If you're with child, get a vitamin D test to check your levels. Take supplements to avoid vitamin deficiency and to keep yourself and your child healthy during your pregnancy.