The study, published the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, investigated the possible associations between maternal vitamin D status as defined by blood levels 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] at 34 weeks of gestation and offspring lean mass and muscle strength at 4 years of age – finding that exposure to 25(OH)D during late pregnancy might influence offspring muscle development through an effect primarily on muscle strength rather than on muscle mass.
Led by Dr Nicholas Harvey from the University of Southampton, UK, the team noted that maternal vitamin D status during pregnancy has been previously associated with offspring bone development and adiposity in addition to being implicated in postnatal muscle function. However, very little is known about a role for antenatal 25(OH)D status in programming muscle development of babies, the research team said.
"These associations between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength may well have consequences for later health; muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures,” explained Harvey.
“It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at four years of age in children born to mothers with higher vitamin D levels will track into adulthood, and so potentially help to reduce the burden of illness associated with loss of muscle mass in old age."
Harvey and his colleagues analysed data from 678 mother and child pairs of participants from the Southampton Women's Survey (SWS). Blood 25(OH)D status was measured during pregnancy and assessments of children at age four included hand grip strength and whole-body dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, yielding lean mass and percent lean mass.
In addition physical activity was assessed by 7-day accelerometry in a subset of 326 children, the team noted.
Results from the study suggest higher the levels of vitamin D in the mother was associated with the higher the grip strength of the child, with an additional, but less pronounced association between mother's vitamin D and child's muscle mass.
Senior author of the study, Professor Cyrus Cooper added explained that the research forms part of a larger programme, “in which we are seeking to understand how factors such as diet and lifestyle in the mother during pregnancy influence a child's body composition and bone development.”
“This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimising body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations,” he said.
Source: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Volume 99, Issue 1, doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-3241
“Maternal Antenatal Vitamin D Status and Offspring Muscle Development: Findings From the Southampton Women's Survey”
Authors: Nicholas C. Harvey, Rebecca J. Moon, Avan Aihie Sayer, et al