New research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that mothers who have a higher intake of vitamin D during pregnancy are more likely to have children with stronger muscles.

Vitamin D is known to help regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream, as well as help cells to communicate.

The body's main source of vitamin D comes from sunlight, but foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and powdered milk are good sources of the vitamin.

The study investigators from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton in the UK, led by Dr. Nicholas Harvey, say that vitamin D levels in the UK are low among young women.

They note that pregnant women are advised to increase their intake of the vitamin by 10μg/day, but that this recommendation is often ignored.

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A new study found that mothers who had high levels of vitamin D at 34 weeks gestation had children with increased grip strength and muscle mass.

Previous research has linked low vitamin D levels to decreased muscle strength in children and adults, but the researchers say there is little knowledge on how a child may be affected by their mother's vitamin D intake during pregnancy.

To find out more, the researchers measured the vitamin D levels of 678 pregnant women from the Southampton's Women's Survey at 34 weeks gestation.

Their child's grip strength and muscle mass were measured when they were 4-years-old.

Maternal vitamin D levels 'could affect child later in life'

The researchers found that mothers who had high levels of vitamin D had children with a much higher grip strength compared with the children of mothers who had low vitamin D levels.

The investigators note that a smaller, but significant link was found between mothers with high vitamin D levels and children with increased muscle mass.

Dr. Harvey says their findings suggest that the link between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength could impact a child's health later in life.

He explains:

"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.

It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at 4 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."

Prof. Cyrus Cooper of the University of Southampton and co-author of the study notes that this research is a part of a larger research program aiming to determine how diet and lifestyle factors during pregnancy can impact a child's bone development and body composition.

"This work should help us to design interventions aimed at optimizing body composition in childhood and later adulthood and thus improve the health of future generations," he adds.

Previous research has linked vitamin D intake to other health benefits. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that the vitamin may reduce pain and depression for women with type 2 diabetes.

Other research has also suggested that low vitamin D levels may damage the brain, while another study details the benefits of vitamin D supplementation for ballet dancers.