Rhonda Patrick, PhD, in an interview on mercola.com (14 March 2016) described three locations where vitamin D regulates serotonin production. Last week (#362) I discussed two of these – the brain and the gut. The third location is the placenta of a pregnant woman. Here, as in the gut, D turns off the gene that produces the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH) which converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.
In the gut vitamin D prevents overproduction of serotonin which activates T cells and could lead to inflammatory bowel disease. In the placenta, as I showed last week, serotonin is essential for normal brain development (in mouse studies serotonin deficiency causes autistic-like behavior). But excess serotonin is even more devastating for fetal development because of maternal autoimmunity. Patrick explains:
“Mothers of autistic children are four times more likely to have autoantibodies against fetal brain proteins in their blood. Studies have shown that a very strong autoimmune response in pregnant monkeys leads to abnormal fetal brain development.”What happens is the mother’s immune cells attack the fetal brain tissue, resulting in brain damage or even miscarriage. This autoimmune response is prevented by a special type of immune cell called T regulatory (Treg) cells. Formation of Treg cells requires a molecule called kynurenine which is made from tryptophan. The problem is that tryptophan binds so strongly to the TPH enzyme that there is little or none available for the kynurenine pathway. Vitamin D slows the TPH enzyme leaving enough tryptophan for the production of Treg cells. Again, Vitamin D to the rescue.
This is in addition to the well-known role of vitamin D in fetal bone formation. A recent study found that supplementing with 1,000 IU of vitamin D increased bone mass in babies born in the winter. The bone mass increase may have been significant in all seasons had they used a higher dose like 4,000 IU. A 2012 study found 4,000 IU was safe during pregnancy and resulted in fewer premature births, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or infections than 400 or even 2,000 IU.
Note that based on old data, RDAs and prenatal vitamins are often limited to 400-600 IU. It is critical for pregnant women to have their D levels tested and to supplement as needed to maintain levels of 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 nmol/L).
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.