The benefits of vitamin D seem to hit the news on a regular basis. There is growing evidence that keeping levels of the vitamin at optimal levels can ward off dementia and other age-related cognition issues.
Lower levels of the vitamin have been associated with a higher risk of multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and diabetic complications. It's necessary for good bone health as well. New research from a study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center looked at the amount of vitamin D given to premature infants in neonatal intensive care units.
A baby is considered premature if he or she is a born before 37 weeks of gestation. Full term is a birth that happens at the 40th week of pregnancy or after. Among the health issues that early babies face is soft bones. Because they were not carried as long as a full-term infant, babies born early don't have ideal bone density and are at risk for fractures. Rickets, a disease that causes weak bones is often attributed to vitamin D deficiency. The standard of care in most NICU settings is a supplement of 400 IUs daily of vitamin D. The research from the University suggests that an increase to 800 IUs daily could result in fewer babies born with low bone density and thus, fewer babies who develop rickets.
Ann Anderson Berry, M.D., is an associate professor in the division of newborn medicine at the university and medical director of the NICU at Nebraska Medicine, UNMC's clinical partner. In a news release, she stated, "We are hopeful that neonatologists will consider giving pre-term infants 800 IUs. We know that even with standard vitamin D dosing, we were still seeing a fair number of pre- term infants who suffered from impaired bone health. This is another form of NICU therapy that can help decrease that risk."
Currently, there are several different recommendations for vitamin D doses in newborns. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the Endocrine Society all have their own guidelines, and health care professionals decide what they think is best for each patient. Each group has research to back up their recommendations, but, according to Dr. Berry, the relationship between vitamin D and outcomes in preemie babies isn't an area of neonatal care that is well understood.
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The study Berry was involved with looked at blood levels of vitamin D in premature babies who were given different doses. Each infant in the study was born between 24 and 32 weeks gestation. The children were divided into two groups who were given daily doses of vitamin D, one group got 400 IUs daily, and another group received double that dosage, 800 IUs daily. At the end of four weeks, the babies who were given the higher doses had better blood levels of the vitamin and better bone density. The infants at the higher daily dose also had growth improvements over the babies at 400 IUs, reducing their risk of developing rickets. Dr. Berry hopes that physicians will adopt the higher dose as the standard of care in NICU patients. The video below has more information.