A major British newspaper this week published a story under the headline, “Sun lamps help unborn babies beat osteoporosis” — further evidence that the value of regular UV exposure is getting through to the press as part of the unfolding vitamin D story.
“Women due to give birth in winter should use a sun lamp during the final three months of pregnancy to protect their child from osteoporosis in later life, doctors have suggested,” Britain’s Sunday Times reported April 27. “They made their recommendation as research found that children born to mothers whose final three months of pregnancy included a summer month were 40% less likely to suffer the bone-wasting condition in adult-hood. A mother’s exposure to sunlight in that final period ensures the developing baby receives enough vitamin D to form strong bones.”
The Times quoted Dr. Marwan Bukhari, a rheumatologist in Lancaster who authored the study, as saying, “You only get good sunlight [when you make vitamin D] between May and September in this country. Pregnant women should have vitamin D supplements or should have lots of good sunshine in somewhere like north Africa or the southern Mediterranean [in winter].”
According to The Times, “Bukhari and colleagues studied 17,000 patients, mostly women and 95% of whom were white. They had all had scans carried out at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary between 1992 and 2004. … They found that patients under 50 were 40% less likely to have developed osteoporosis if their mother’s last trimester of pregnancy included a summer month.”
The study comes on the heels of heightened recommendations for vitamin D in North America for expectant mothers. The Canadian Pediatric Society this year recommended that expectant mothers get 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to be able to pass any vitamin D onto children prenatally or while nursing. That’s 10 times the current government vitamin D recommendations, and some vitamin D experts have suggested the number should be as high as 6,400 IU daily.
“The vitamin D levels now being suggested are consistent only with levels one could get naturally through UVB exposure,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “There is no way to get there naturally through diet, and the safe upper limit for vitamin D supplements — which, unlike sun exposure, are linked to the possibility of toxic overdose reactions – is still only 2,000 units a day. It is becoming more and more obvious that regular UV exposure isthe only real natural and intended pathway for natural vitamin D production and that high-dose supplements are, at best, a good second option.”
The North American tanning community generally suggests that pregnant women consult a physician before tanning during a pregnancy. UV exposure does not pose any threat to the fetus — it does not penetrate beyond the mother’s skin, contrary to urban legend, but any excessive heat and discomfort can be an issue for the mother.
Exposure position in the third trimester of a pregnancy can also be an issue. A pregnant woman laying on her back can put extra pressure on her spine.
“The study will revive the debate over whether excessive caution about exposure to sunshine is creating other health problems,” The Times reported.