Friday, February 6, 2009

Expectant mothers: will your newborn die of heart failure due to your vitamin D deficiency?

Tragically, newborns sometimes suffer heart failure, and until lately physicians had not considered vitamin D deficiency as a possible cause. However, in a study conducted in southeast England, sixteen infants were identified that had suffered heart failure and low blood calcium between 2000 and 2006[1]. Six were of Indian and ten of African ethnicity (dark skinned people do not make vitamin D efficiently).

Six of these unfortunate children suffered cardiac arrest, three died, eight were placed on lung machines, and two were referred for heart transplants. Can you imagine an innocent baby needing a heart transplant because his/her mother was severely deficient and passed that deficiency to the child? The average serum vitamin D level was only 7.4 ng/ml (50-60 is optimal), and some of the infants had undetectable levels.

Hypocalcaemia is usually caused by insufficient vitamin D in the blood and often results in convulsions and death. But the care givers had not even tried to assure that vitamin D levels were adequate. The researchers concluded with this statement: “Vitamin D deficiency and consequent hypocalcaemia are seen in association with severe and life-threatening infant heart failure. That no infant or mother was receiving the recommended vitamin supplementation highlights the need for adequate provision of vitamin D to ethnic minority populations."

Obviously, a few dollars worth of vitamin D or a lot of summer sunshine or tanning bed use could have prevented this catastrophe. At least the word is getting out.

[1][1] Maiya, S. et al. Hypocalcaemia and vitamin D deficiency: an important, but preventable cause of life-threatening heart failure. Heart 2008;94:581-84

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