Vitamin D for All

An important part of wellness in children is nutrition. Parents and pediatricians alike are always telling kids to eat right and drink their milk. Truth be told, even with that good advice most of our children are not receiving the amount of vitamin D that they need to be healthy. Kids, on average, would have to drink a quart of milk daily to receive the amount of vitamin D recommended. We don’t want them to do that because this would reduce their intake of other foods that are good for them and give them too many unnecessary calories.

Vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods — they include oily fish, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and some mushrooms. Most children are not going to fill their plates with these foods. An additional way to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun. The widespread use of sunscreen reduces this benefit. However, sunscreen is absolutely necessary for children 6 months and older to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen use coupled with the lack of sun exposure in the winter makes the sun an unreliable way of increasing vitamin D levels. Many foods are supplemented with vitamin D including orange juice, cereals and yogurt. Trying to include these in your child’s diet will help them get the D they need.

Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones. Since children and adolescents are growing rapidly, vitamin D is essential for bone growth. Loading our bones with calcium with the help of vitamin D is an important way to reduce osteoporosis as we age. There are other benefits of vitamin D. A recent study was performed looking at the association of children with low vitamin D levels and respiratory infections (cold and flu). Children with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to get these infections than those with normal levels. Supplementing with vitamins is a quick and easy way to reduce these infections. Adequate levels of vitamin D are also shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers and type 1 Diabetes in adults.

Vitamin D Supplements

Until recently, many pediatricians felt that vitamin supplementation was not needed. We believed that ideally our children should receive all of their nutrition from the foods that they eat. Since most of us do not live in the ideal world, but more likely a world that is fast paced, busy and lacks perfect dietary intake, vitamins in general and vitamin D more specifically are necessary.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends vitamin D supplementation for all children from infants to teens. Breast feeding is great nutrition for babies. Unfortunately, breast milk does not have enough vitamin D for babies to completely fill their need. Infants should start a vitamin D supplement in the first week of life. There are many brands on the market and the target amount is 400 IU (international units) daily. It is supplied as a liquid formulation that is easy to give. Formula fed babies also require supplementation. Unless they are drinking a quart or more of formula a day, they require the same supplement of 400 IU a day. Older children and adolescents often don’t meet their requirements through diet. Look for a vitamin that has the 400 IU that is recommended for them as well. Vitamin D is a complex nutrient that is required by the body for healthy functioning. Bone health, immune functioning, cancer and Diabetes prevention are the known benefits from normal D levels. Dietary sources of this vitamin are important, but every child should be supplemented to ensure adequate levels.

Robert Rutkowski, MD, FAAP (CCP – Moon and Wexford)