This first article was first published in the USANA Essentials of Health newsletter on March 4, 2015
Research indicates that the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency among children in the United States is higher than previously thought. Although several small studies had found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in specific populations of children, this study is the first to examine the issue nationwide.
A study in the journal Pediatrics reveals a troublesome prevalence of low levels of vitamin D among children in the U.S.
Researchers evaluated data from over 6,000 children aged 1 to 21 who participated in the National Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001 and 2004. Insufficient levels of vitamin D were defined as 15 to 29 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), and deficient levels as less than 15 ng/mL.
Over 60 percent of the children studied had vitamin D levels defined as insufficient. Outright deficiency occurred in nine percent of the subjects. If applied to the U.S. population, these percentages would be equivalent to nearly 51 million children with insufficient vitamin D levels, and 7.6 million children with vitamin D deficiency. Participants who consumed at least 400 IU of vitamin D per day were less likely to experience a deficiency, but just four percent of the children used vitamin D supplements.
In addition to its consequences regarding bone health, vitamin D deficiency can potentially increase the risk of future heart disease and other health conditions. The researchers concluded that physicians should be screening children for vitamin D levels, especially in populations that are considered high risk.
Kumar J. Prevalence and associations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency in US children: NHANES 2001-2004. Pediatrics. 2009 Sep;124(3):e362-70.
Robin’s Thoughts on Vitamin D and Natural Health
Why should we care about vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, promoting the absorption of calcium and phosphorous which helps the bones and teeth become stronger and healthier. In fact, recent studies have correlated vit D deficiencies with “growing pains” commonly experienced by children, and that supplementing with vit D reduces those pains.
Vitamin D also has many other various roles in the body, including maintaining muscle strength, modulating immune function, and regulating blood pressure. Moreover, vitamin D has a role in the regulation of cellular differentiation, the biological process by which cells become specialized for a specific function.
Because of these physiological functions, vitamin D has been implicated in protection against muscle pain and weakness, certain autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and even some forms of cancer.
Can we improve our family’s vitamin D levels through natural health?
When I was a child, I spent most of my days playing outside- biking, skating, playing in the woods and along the stream near my house. Summers were spent camping by the lake- staying active by swimming and water skiing everyday.
Today our children spend much of their time indoors, and when they are outside sun screen is slathered on liberally to prevent burns and future skin cancer, resulting in little exposure to the natural sunlight that produces vitamin D in the body.
Experts say that as little as 10-30 minutes of sun exposure twice per week allows sufficient synthesis of vitamin D. But that doesn’t take into account many variables: our skin pigmentation, latitude, time of day, season of the year, weather conditions, and the amount of body surface covered with clothing or sunscreen.
It is also difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources. Salmon, sardines, and mushrooms have natural vitamin D, but most kids aren’t big eaters of these foods. Most dairy products, breakfast cereals and some orange juices are fortified with vitamin D, but I would avoid any products with a high sugar content.
Supplementing with vitamin D may be necessary
The results from the above study on vitamin D deficiency shows that what we are doing now just isn’t working. Too many children are deficient in vitamin D, and the numbers are rising. Certain medical conditions including obesity, digestive disorders and allergies either decrease the body’s ability to produce vitamin D from the sun, or make it difficult to eat vitamin D enriched foods. Adding a natural health supplement containing vitamin D has been shown to improve levels of vitamin D safely for all children.
It’s difficult to know whether you or your child’s vitamin D level is sufficient without testing it through your physician’s care. Children at high risk of vitamin D deficiency likely will need higher levels of supplementation and would benefit from checking and monitoring their vitamin D status via the accepted standard.
More detailed information on vitamin D, including specific recommendations on how much to supplement is found at the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center.
Morandi G. Significant association among growing pains, vitamin D supplementation, and bone mineral status: results from a pilot cohort study: J Bone Miner Metab. 2015 Mar;33(2):201-6
Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health. Micronutrient Information Center. Vitamin D. 2015 Mar http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/