Approximately 15% of the pediatric population are vitamin D deficient
Vitamin D is essential for our health. Deficiency of this vitamin is also fairly common, occurring in approximately 15% of the pediatric population in the United States. Severe vitamin D deficiency in children causes rickets, which is the softening and weakening of bones. This leads to bowed legs, changes in the shape of the skull, a stooped appearance, and a protruding abdomen. It has been suggested by various studies that there is also a link between vitamin D deficiency and other conditions, including cancers of the breast, colon and prostate, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, mood disorders such as depression, heart disease, hypertension, food allergies, asthma, and cavities. However, specific cause and effect regarding the role of vitamin D in these conditions has not been well-established.
Our bodies can get vitamin D from just 10-15 minutes of sun exposure
Our bodies can get vitamin D in two different ways. One is by from dietary intake. Dietary sources of vitamin D include oily fish like salmon and sardines, cod liver oil, liver and other organ meats, and egg yolks. Because most people do not eat these things often enough or in a sufficient quantity to meet their vitamin D needs, many commonly consumed foods have vitamin D added. These include milk and other dairy products, orange juice, bread, and cereals. Many people need to take a vitamin D supplement to get the recommended amount, since it can be difficult to get through our diet alone. The other way to get vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight, which allows our skin make it. 10-15 minutes of sun exposure during hours of 10:00 to 3:00 is sufficient for most people. However, darker skinned individuals may need more time for adequate absorption. Also, for those of us who live far north of the equator, the sun may not be strong enough to allow for adequate synthesis, not to mention the lack of sun many days of the year. Use of sunscreen, which is of course important for preventing skin cancer, decreases the amount of ultraviolet exposure and therefore the amount of vitamin D we can make.
Vitamin D is important for mom and baby
Getting enough vitamin D in pregnancy is important to help make sure that the developing baby has adequate stores. It is recommended that pregnant women get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, although some studies suggest that 1,000 IU or greater may be necessary to prevent deficiency. The vitamin D content of breast milk is low. It is recommended that all exclusively breastfed infants receive a supplement of 400 IU daily. Another strategy is to supplement the breastfeeding mother in a dose high enough that it raises the vitamin D levels in her milk. Studies show that a maternal dosage of 6,400 IU daily provides the same result for the baby as supplementing them directly. There was no evidence of toxicity the mothers who took this higher dosage of vitamin D. In our practice we routinely recommend this approach, as it provides benefit to both mom and baby simultaneously. We carry a great vitamin D supplement in our office that is very absorbable and concentrated, so you only need one drop per day for baby, or 2-3 drops per day for mom.
Eat well, get outside and enjoy the sun whenever you can, and consider a vitamin D supplement to keep you and your baby in good health!