Low Vitamin D Linked to Pregnancy Infection
A vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV) has been linked to low vitamin D levels in pregnant women, reports a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Black women seem to be disproportionately affected by BV, and they are also more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
Protecting reproductive health
BV is associated with an imbalance in the normal vaginal flora, causing a foul-smelling discharge and sometimes burning or itching. Even when no symptoms are present, BV can lead to serious pelvic infections and increase the chance of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnant women have the added risk of danger to their unborn baby, as BV infection can cause premature birth or low birth weight.
Vitamin D has been making the headlines for the past several years, as new evidence of its immune-modulating effects are uncovered. The “sunshine vitamin” may have a role in many chronic diseases; higher levels seem to protect against heart disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, infections, and many cancers.
Upon exposure of the skin to sunlight, vitamin D is converted to its active form in the body. Darker skinned people aren’t able to make as much vitamin D, predisposing them to lower levels.
In the first study of its kind to investigate the relationship between vitamin D status and BV infection in pregnancy, 469 pregnant women were evaluated. About 41% of the women had BV. Women with the lowest vitamin D levels (less than 20 nmol/L) were 65% more likely to have BV than were those with levels of 75 nmol/L. As vitamin D status decreased in black women, their likelihood of having BV increased. This trend wasn’t seen in white women.
What you can do to prevent BV
- Do not douche. Douching can disturb the natural balance of the vaginal flora, increasing the risk of BV.
- Limit your numbers of sexual partners. Having more partners or a new partner is associated with a greater chance of BV. Male partners generally do not need to be treated for BV. Women who have female partners can pass infection back and forth, so both women should be treated.
- Consider having your vitamin D levels checked. If your levels are low, your health care practitioner can recommend a vitamin D supplement. Check with your doctor before taking vitamin D.
Dr. Tori Hudson, a physician specializing in women’s health recommends these measures:
- Avoid refined foods and simple carbohydrates. These foods are often high in sugars, which provide fuel to harmful bacteria and directly suppress immune function.
- Take an acidophilus supplement, or eat eight ounces of plain yogurt every day to support healthy vaginal flora.
- Avoid sexual activity during treatment to avoid reinfection and to reduce irritation.
June 18, 2009
(J Nutr 2009;139:1157–61)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.
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