New research suggests that preterm infants with higher vitamin D levels are less likely to develop respiratory distress syndrome than those with low levels.
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is the number one cause of death for preterm infants. Preterm infants are often born with underdeveloped lungs in which leads to the lack of sufficient surfactant. Surfactant is an important substance that helps the lungs keep open.
Without adequate surfactant, the infant has a more difficult time breathing and may not be able to supply enough oxygen to the body.
Researchers think that vitamin D plays a role in the respiratory system based on various evidence. Vitamin D receptors in the immune system means that vitamin D can bind to immune cells and help them fight off the bacteria that causes respiratory infections.
Respiratory disorders tend to be more frequent during winter months when vitamin D is hard to make from sun exposure.
As both vitamin D deficiency and RDS is common in preterm infants, researchers recently investigated the relationship between RDS and vitamin D. To do so, they measured the vitamin D levels in the cord blood of 81 preterm infants.
The RDS rate was significantly higher among preterm infants with low vitamin D levels. Fifty two infants with low vitamin D status were diagnosed with RDS, whereas only 3 preterm infants with vitamin D greater than 15 ng/ml had RDS.
The researchers’ analysis showed that higher vitamin D levels may help prevent RDS, with higher levels showing a 40% decreased odds of having RDS.
The researchers conclude, “Lower cord blood vitamin D levels might be associated with increased risk of RDS in preterm infants with very low birth weight.”