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Vitamin D is synthesized predominantly in the liver and functions as an important secosteroid hormone with pleiotropic effects. While its key regulatory role in calcium and bone homeostasis is well established, recently there is increasing recognition that vitamin D also regulates cell proliferation and differentiation, and has immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic properties. These non-skeletal effects are relevant in the pathogenesis and treatment of many causes of chronic liver disease. Vitamin D deficiency is frequently present in chronic liver disease and may predict non-response to antiviral therapy in chronic hepatitis C. Small studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation improves sustained viral response rates, while 1α-hydroxylase polymorphisms and vitamin D-binding protein are also implicated in therapeutic outcomes. Vitamin D deficiency also closely relates to the severity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is implicated in the pathogenesis of insulin resistance, a key factor in the development of NAFLD. In preclinical studies, phototherapy and vitamin D supplementation ameliorate NAFLD histopathology, while vitamin D is a powerful anti-fibrotic against thioacetamide liver injury. In liver transplant recipients severe vitamin D deficiency predicts, and vitamin D supplementation prevents, acute cellular rejection. The role of vitamin D in the activation and regulation of both innate and adaptive immune systems may explain its importance in the above liver diseases. Further prospective studies are therefore warranted to investigate the therapeutic impact of vitamin D supplementation in chronic liver disease.
Vitamin D is a secosteroid with an endocrine mechanism of action which is sequentially synthesized in humans in the skin, liver and kidneys. The active hormone, 1alpha,25-dihydrocholecalciferol [1,25(OH)2D3], is often considered only in terms of its role in controlling calcium and phosphorus homeostasis. However, cumulative evidence points to the presence of vitamin D receptors in many tissues. The present article summarizes key points regarding the participation of vitamin D in pregnancy and breastfeeding. During pregnancy, sufficient vitamin D concentrations are needed not only to address the growing demand for calcium on the part of the fetus, but also to participate in fetal growth, development of the nervous system, lung maturation and fetal immune system function. Hypovitaminosis D has been related to the development of diabetes, pre-eclampsia and fetal neurological disorders. During pregnancy and lactation, calcium from the maternal skeleton is mobilized, with a rise in bone turnover and a reduction in bone mass. It is advisable for pregnant and nursing women to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D, through small doses of solar exposure to facilitate natural formation of the hormone or by ingesting appropriate vitamin supplements. Further studies are needed to clarify the many gaps in knowledge and elucidate the role of vitamin D in the context of reproduction. Confirmation of experimental observations relating to the risks of hypovitaminosis D would have important public health implications.