Kids need supplemental vitamin D in their formative years

Twenty years ago many naturopaths and nutritionists were advocating huge increases in vitamin D for infants and youth—a group generally thought by the mainstream medical community to not need it.

The reason these alternative-health experts were recommending increases was because vitamin D had so clearly been linked to solving numerous health conditions.

The reward for this advocacy was for the mainstream medical community to label such naturopaths and nutritionists as “snake oil salesmen.”

Parents were told increases in vitamin D were only necessary for severe conditions—such as rickets—while insisting that anyone recommending an increase in vitamin D was simply a vitamin peddler trying to get rich off selling his/her supplements.

Fast forward ten years to October 2008. The American Academy of Pediatrics suddenly DOUBLES the amount of vitamin D it recommends for infants, children and adolescents.

The new clinical report recommends all children receive 400 IU a day of vitamin D, beginning in the first few days of life.

Fast forward another four years and physicians at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center up the ante even further by telling pediatricians to screen all kids for vitamin D deficiency,  and to test those at high risk.

“Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem year round, but because sun exposure is critical for vitamin D synthesis and production, the winter months further exacerbate what is a perennial problem,” says Johns Hopkins Children’s Center endocrinologist Dominique Long, M.D.

In the five years since this recommendation, the evidence linking vitamin D deficiencies to one health condition after another continues to pile up.

Prolonged and untreated vitamin D deficiency can affect multiple organs and functions, including bone growth and density, metabolism, heart and immunity—but it rarely causes overt symptoms and often goes unnoticed.

Vitamin D deficiency in childhood can cause skeletal deformities, brittle bones, frequent fractures and lead to premature osteoporosis in later life. However emerging evidence suggests that vitamin D is involved in far more than bone health.

Studies now demonstrate low vitamin D levels can affect everything from susceptibility to asthma to proper brain functioning.

Recent studies have also found a link between low vitamin D levels and some cancers, heart disease, suppressed immunity and even premature death.

Experts caution that these studies do not show that vitamin D deficiency alone can cause cancer or heart disease; however, they do suggest that vitamin D may be a powerful component of the many factors that cause such disorders.

In short, the importance of adequate intake of vitamin D in the formative years cannot be understated.

Much of our life-long health is pre-programmed in childhood, and many adult diseases are rooted in exposures, lifestyle and diet during the first decade of life, experts say. And vitamin D, or lack of it, is a classic example.

The good news is that once detected, vitamin D deficiency can be usually corrected easily with high-dose supplementation.

To prevent vitamin D deficiency, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breastfed infants receive supplemental 400 IU daily until they are weaned and start consuming vitamin D-fortified formula or other foods.

This of course presumes the vitamin D being used for “fortifying” is a quality source, which it probably isn’t. So, if you’re not sure, you should continue supplementation with a quality whole food vitamin D.

The recommended daily dietary intake of vitamin D is 400 IU for children younger than 1 year, and 600 IU for those older than 1 year.

Most naturopath doctors and nutritionists still recommend higher doses, but even the medical establishment’s trend appears to be headed in the right direction.

Parents should ensure children get enough vitamin D in their diets, and not rely solely on supplements.

Foods rich on vitamin D include fish, egg yolks, raw milk, cereals, yogurt and cheese.

Note that it is important to supplement calcium and vitamin K along with the vitamin D. The three nutrients work synergistically; hence, the vitamin D will be absorbed and utilized better.