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LMU – 180 Unlocking the Potential of Vitamin D: A Mother’s Gift to Her Child’s IQ


LMU – 180 Unlocking the Potential of Vitamin D: A Mother's Gift to Her Child's IQ

Source: Journal of Nutrition (November 2020)

Liestyle Medicine Update (November 5, 2020)


In the realm of maternal health, few factors are as crucial as a mother’s well-being during pregnancy. While the importance of proper nutrition is widely acknowledged, a lesser-known hero has emerged on the stage of prenatal care – vitamin D. In a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Nutrition in November 2020, researchers shed light on the profound influence of maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy on a child’s IQ at 4-6 years of age. This revelation not only underscores the critical role of vitamin D in fetal brain development but also unveils the startling prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among expectant mothers.

A Symphony of Development: Vitamin D’s Role in Fetal Brain

The intricate journey of human development commences long before birth, with the prenatal period playing a pivotal role in shaping a child’s future. Central to this process is vitamin D, a nutrient that holds the key to a child’s cognitive potential. The significance of vitamin D in fetal brain development cannot be overstated, with the mammalian brain boasting vitamin D receptors as early as the 12th day after conception. The developing fetal brain relies on vitamin D for a myriad of essential processes, making maternal vitamin D levels a critical factor in ensuring optimal neurocognitive development.

CANDLE Study: Illuminating the Path

To unravel the intricate relationship between maternal vitamin D levels and a child’s IQ, researchers turned to the CANDLE Study (Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood). This comprehensive study encompassed over 1500 pregnant women in their second trimester of a single-fetus healthy pregnancy. The study’s premise was clear: to investigate how maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy impact a child’s IQ, both verbal and non-verbal, at ages 4-6 years.

A Stark Reality: Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency

As the study unveiled its findings, a startling reality emerged – 46% of the pregnant women involved in the study exhibited deficient levels of vitamin D in their blood. This alarming statistic was drawn from a U.S.-based study, where vitamin D deficiency is defined by a blood level below 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L). However, this threshold, originally established to ensure adequate bone health, might not suffice to support optimal fetal brain development or combat a range of diseases influenced by suboptimal vitamin D levels. Among these, conditions such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments lurk in the shadows, awaiting their moment to manifest.

The Looming Shadow of Vitamin D Deficiency

While the issue of vitamin D deficiency affects a wide demographic, it casts a particularly ominous shadow over Black American women. Within the study, these women exhibited an average vitamin D blood level of a mere 19.8 ng/ml (49.5 nmol/L). In stark contrast, Caucasian women demonstrated an average vitamin D blood level of 25.9 ng/ml (62.5 nmol/L). Melissa Melough, the lead researcher, highlights a disconcerting fact – up to 80% of Black pregnant women in the U.S. may find themselves grappling with vitamin D deficiency. This issue, however, extends its reach beyond the United States, encompassing women of childbearing age worldwide, especially those with darker skin tones. The higher melanin content in their skin acts as a barrier to ultraviolet light, impeding the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D efficiently.

A Level Playing Field: Maternal Vitamin D’s Universal Impact

One of the most striking revelations of the study is its demonstration of the universality of maternal vitamin D’s influence, irrespective of race. Across all participants, regardless of skin color, a clear trend emerged – the higher the mother’s blood vitamin D level during the second trimester of pregnancy, the higher the child’s IQ at ages 4-6. More specifically, for every 10 ng/mL (25 nmol/l) increase in maternal vitamin D levels, the child’s Full-Scale IQ saw a 1.17-point boost, accompanied by a 1.17-point increase in Verbal IQ and a 1.03-point rise in Nonverbal IQ. These findings resonate beyond the realm of IQ, as they hint at far-reaching implications, with potential impacts on future life outcomes. The economic sphere, for instance, mirrors these changes, with each IQ point decrement translating to a 1.93% decrease in lifetime earnings for males and a 3.23% decrease for females.

Chasing the Optimal Threshold: Rethinking Vitamin D Intake

The study’s revelations extend to the realm of recommended vitamin D intake during pregnancy. The researchers argue that the current recommendations might fall short of addressing the widespread issue of vitamin D deficiency effectively. Popular prenatal supplements, typically containing 400–600 IU vitamin D, may prove inadequate in correcting deficiencies. Based on randomized controlled trials, daily supplementation of 800 to 1000 IU may be necessary for repletion during pregnancy, with some cases of severe deficiency warranting doses as high as 4000 IU. Nevertheless, the absence of a consensus regarding optimal vitamin D concentrations during pregnancy underscores the need for further research, potentially leading to population-specific guidelines for addressing deficiency in pregnancy. In the absence of universal guidelines, aiming for a blood vitamin D level between 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L) and 50 ng/mL (125 nmol/L) may serve as a prudent target for pregnant women, safeguarding not only their health but also the cognitive potential of the next generation.


  1. Melissa M Melough, Laura E Murphy, J Carolyn Graff, Karen J Derefinko, Kaja Z LeWinn, Nicole R Bush, Daniel A Enquobahrie, Christine T Loftus, Mehmet Kocak, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Frances A Tylavsky. *Maternal Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D during Gestation Is Positively Associated with Neurocognitive Development in Offspring at Age 4–6 Years*. The Journal of Nutrition, 2020.                                                    [Read more](
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Dr. Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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