To say that the body undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy is an understatement. A woman increases blood volume by up to 50%, the lung capacity increases, muscles get stretched as they have never been extended before, and many other biological processes are altered. The changes in digestion and bile circulation during pregnancy are just some of the reasons why gallstones and gallbladder issues are more likely to develop.
But did you know that vitamin D deficiency can make it worse for pregnant women?
What happens to the gallbladder during pregnancy?
To accommodate the nutritional needs of the fetus, a woman’s body automatically slows down the digestive process which helps to increase absorption. This includes decreased gallbladder motility, secretion of bile with increased amounts of cholesterol, and decreased amounts of chenodeoxycholic acid. The extraordinarily high levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones during pregnancy also have a huge impact on the digestive process.
Because of the impaired gallbladder emptying, the bile becomes stagnant. This may cause calcification or formation of gallstones. Excessive cholesterol saturation may lead to bile sludge that may also obstruct biliary ducts. This messes up the bile circulation, leading to gallbladder inflammation or cholesterol gallstone formation. Sex hormones also can change bile acid composition and influence gallbladder motility. Lower chenodeoxycholic acid levels also affect cholesterol and bile acid metabolism.
Now, what does Vitamin D Deficiency have to do with it?
The primary role of vitamin D is the maintenance of calcium and phosphorus levels in our body to allow metabolism, bone mineralization, and neuromuscular transmission (a process by which the central nervous system controls the movement of muscles in the body). This means that vitamin D has a direct influence on gallbladder motility and ejection fraction. For individuals with vitamin D deficiency (VDD), this can be an issue, so much more for pregnant women who are undergoing a lot of biological changes affecting the gallbladder and digestive process as a whole.
According to several studies, vitamin D deficiency is associated with gallbladder stasis and biliary dyskinesia or low functioning gallbladder. These are important risk factors for gallstones. Vitamin D Deficiency also affects the gallbladder since it is associated with gestational diabetes and insulin resistance which may lead to systemic inflammation. On the other hand, sufficient levels of vitamin D help decrease fasting blood sugar, reduce visceral fat, and decrease inflammation. All these can lower the risk of gallstone formation.
If you are pregnant and obese, then you’re at greater risk
Pregnant women who are obese and suffering from fat malabsorption are more prone to vitamin D deficiency. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, obesity during pregnancy is associated with VDD because vitamin D is sequestered by body fat. Fat malabsorption among those with pre-existing conditions, like gallbladder disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and Chron’s disease, also affect the amount of vitamin D used by the body. These reasons make pregnant women a high-risk group for vitamin D deficiency.
Other factors that may lead to vitamin D deficiency:
- inadequate sun exposure
- use of sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
- skin aging
- atmospheric contamination and overcast
- location and season of the year
Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and its impact on the fetus, the newborn, and in childhood
There are many ways through which vitamin D influences placental, fetal, and maternal health during pregnancy. In one of our past blog posts, we emphasized the importance of Vitamin D3 and K2 in boosting the immune system. This also applies to expectant mothers and their unborn children.
Vitamin D also plays a crucial role in the following processes:
- Proper implantation of the placenta
- Prenatal and postpartum infection prevention
- Production of sex hormones
- Glucose and insulin metabolism
- Musculoskeletal growth of the baby
Given the importance of the sunshine vitamin, recent studies have associated vitamin D deficiency with preeclampsia, insulin resistance, gestational diabetes, bacterial vaginosis, preterm birth, and a greater probability of cesarean delivery.
Vitamin D Deficiency affects not just the mother but the child as well. VDD can have a profound impact that can be carried up to adulthood. Recent evidence indicates that nutrients can modify the immune and metabolic programming during sensitive periods of fetal and child development. Children born of mothers with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have acute lower respiratory tract infections, recurrent wheezing, and allergic diseases. In a study among school-aged children, vitamin D supplementation was associated with a reduction in the incidence of diabetes during a 30-year follow-up.
Vitamin D is produced by the body during exposure to sunlight but is also found in oily fish, eggs, and fortified food products. Unfortunately, pregnant women and those will gallbladder issues cannot eat some of these food sources. Also, consuming these foods cannot make up for the lack of sun exposure. Aside from having insufficient amount of vitamin D, products that claim to be fortified usually contain Vitamin D2 which cannot be easily absorbed by the body. This is why vitamin D supplementation is necessary.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, there should be supplementation with 1.000-2.000IU/day of Vitamin D. The Canadian Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementation with 2.000IU/d during pregnancy and lactation to prevent Vitamin D Deficiency. A 2013 study on patients with gallstones showed that vitamin D supplementation can improve gallbladder ejection fraction by 20% and result in significant resolution of gallbladder stasis.
In our previous blog post, we explained that the most effective form of vitamin D is D3 and works best with vitamin K2. We recommend a D3K2 combo by Genestra, a quality brand that carries one in an emulsified form which is designed for optimal absorption.
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