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Vitamin D and congenital heart defects: could there be a link?

Posted on: January 12, 2018   by  Riley Peterson & John Cannell, MD.


Imagine welcoming a child into the world, only to find out an unforeseen congenital defect is threatening the life of your baby. For some parents, this scenario is very real and life-changing.

Take the Baier family, for example. Bret and Amy were overjoyed to finally meet their new son, Paul, when only two days after his birth, they were met with a life-threatening diagnosis: Paul was suffering from several heart defects that would require open-heart surgery to repair. Years later, the Baier family supported Paul through several more surgeries and medical interventions to allow him to live a healthy and normal life.

While Paul’s development and life has finally normalized after kindergarten, he will likely require further surgeries in the future, according to his father. Bret Baier has made it his life’s mission not only to provide his son a normal life, but to raise awareness and educate others on congenital heart defects, and promote early screening to protect the lives of those affected.

Congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common congenital condition affecting newborn infants like Paul. While genetics, maternal diabetes and obesity can attribute to about 15% of these cases; the other 85% are due to unknown factors. However, because these heart defects are developed in utero, it is assumed that maintaining optimal health during pregnancy is necessary to promote the healthy growth of a developing baby.

Vitamin D has been identified in past research as playing a part in several pregnancy-related conditions such as preeclampsia, preterm birth, low birth weight and miscarriage. There has been limited exploration on the topic of vitamin D status in CHD, therefore, researchers from a recent study decided to evaluate this relationship.

Parent and child pairs from this study were sampled from the Heart Defects, Vascular status, Genetic factors and Nutritional factors (HAVEN) study, which was a case-control family study designed to investigate the role of genetics and nutrients in the pathogenesis and prevention of CHD. A total of 345 cases of CHD and 432 controls were included for analysis.

All participants, including mother, father and child, underwent measurement of anthropometrics and vitamin D status when the offspring was between the ages of 11 and 18 months. Family medical and genetic history was recorded, as was dietary patterns, including supplement use, during pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency was defined as having levels below 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/l), moderate status was defined between 20-30 ng/ml (50-75 nmol/l) and vitamin D levels above 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) were considered adequate.

This is what the researchers found:

  • Vitamin D status was significantly lower in cases compared to controls (p = 0.02).
  • There was no significant variation in lifestyle or maternal characteristics between the case and control groups.
  • Cases were more often born preterm and had low birth weight (p < 0.001).
  • Only 27% of case mothers and 38% of control mothers had adequate vitamin D status.
  • Vitamin D deficiency was associated with a 1.82 increased odds of CHD in offspring after adjusting for confounding factors (p = 0.002).
  • Insufficient vitamin D status was significantly associated with a 1.58 increased odds of CHD in offspring after adjustment (p = 0.002).

The researchers concluded:

“In conclusion, we have demonstrated that a moderate to severely compromised maternal vitamin D status is associated with CHD in the offspring.”

Though this was an observational study and could not prove a causal association between vitamin D and CHD, this only adds to the pile of research that supports a protective role of vitamin D in pregnancy. In order to promote optimal maternal and neonatal health, the Vitamin D Council recommends supplement with 5,000 – 10,000 IU (125-250 mcg) per day, or practicing safe sun exposure habits when appropriate.

It now seems pertinent to promote awareness and education on this matter. Just as Bret Baier has made it part of his life’s mission to promote awareness on the effects of CHD on the lives of children and their families, we have made it our mission to provide and promote resources for those who are looking to take a proactive step towards living a healthier lifestyle. Help us spread our message by telling your story, sharing our materials or mentioning us to friends and family. Our voice has expanded significantly since our start in 2003, and we won’t stop until the vitamin D deficiency pandemic has been halted.


Peterson, R. & Cannell, JJ. Vitamin D and congenital heart defects: could there be a link? The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2017.


Koster, M.P.H. et al. A compromised maternal vitamin D status is associated with congenital heart defects in offspring. Early Human Development, 2017.

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