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New research: Somali immigrants in Sweden suffering from severe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy

Posted on: December 19, 2013   by  Vitamin D Council


New research out of Sweden has found that pregnant Somali women are suffering from severe vitamin D deficiency, with one-third of the women having undetectable vitamin D levels.

Past reports have speculated that Somali women living in Sweden are deficient in vitamin D, perhaps severely deficient. Despite this speculation, there remains little data in public literature on the vitamin D levels of these immigrants.

Severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia and muscle weakness. Osteomalacia is the adult form of rickets, where due to vitamin D and/or calcium deficiency, the bones become soft and fragile. People with osteomalacia often have difficulties climbing stairs and getting up from the squatting position.

Furthermore, researchers speculate that vitamin D deficiency may lead to birth complications and conditions in offspring, although more research is needed to say for sure.

In the present study, researchers from Uppsala University looked at 123 women from a local antenatal clinic, 71 of which were native Swedes, 52 of which had emigrated from Somalia (defined as having been born in Somalia).

The researchers found that Swedish women had higher vitamin D levels, with mean levels of 19.8 ng/ml.

In stark contrast, a mean level could not be calculated in the Somali group because 35% of the women had undetectable levels, meaning that their levels were less than 4 ng/ml. Overall, ninety percent of the Somali women had severe vitamin D deficiency with levels lower than 10 ng/ml. In comparison, only 10% of Swedish women had severe deficiency.

When the researchers looked at muscle strength, they found that the Swedish women were much stronger and able to do basic movements compared to the Somali women. Somali women had weaker grip strength and weaker leg performance. Seventy-three percent of women were unable to squat, 29% were unable to stand on one leg and 21% could not lift their hips. Grip strength strongly correlated with 25(OH)D levels, the lower your level, the worse your grip strength.

“Many of the Somali women in this study had undetectable or very low 25(OH)D concentrations and pronounced muscle weakness in the hands and upper legs, where grip strength was strongly associated with low 25(OH)D concentrations,” the researchers concluded. “These findings have implications for the antenatal care of this population. Maternity health care personnel should be aware of this increased frequency and manage their care accordingly.”

The researchers did not speculate whether some of the Somali women were suffering from osteomalacia or not.


Kalliokoski P, Bergqvist Y, Löfvander M. Physical performance and 25-hydroxyvitamin D: a cross-sectional study of pregnant Swedish and Somali immigrant women and new mothers. MC Pregnancy Childbirth, 2013.

2 Responses to New research: Somali immigrants in Sweden suffering from severe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy

  1. Ilyaz

    Hi Dr. Cannel,

    I am somali with two autistic kids, both of them boys. I am vitamin D deficient. My children are never tested. I know a lot of somali families with autistic children. We do not know what is happening to us. This condition is new to Somalia and I never heard of it in somali. Even my parents never did. Now we call it western disease. Could you help me please? I am desperate. So are my fellow somalis.

    London, uk

  2. srdanton

    Dr. Cannel,

    I thought to pass on these articles regarding the Somali refugee/autism question. Second generation Somali refugees in Sweden and Minneapolis are to a large extent born autistic, and Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be the link.




    I am sure that you are already aware of this. I hope this query and attending research, which is now becoming more abundant, will help the readers. When I googled the query several years ago, there were only two articles available. Susan

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