Are Vitamin D Supplements Necessary for Children’s Health?
The New England Journal of Medicine reports that vitamin D deficiency is more common than experts had once believed. This nutrient is vital for many biological processes including healthy bone development. A growing number of rickets cases among today’s children has resulted in an expert recommendation of vitamin D supplements for all children and breastfed infants.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that the body uses what it needs from what has been stored in the liver. It also works as a hormone after the body has converted the vitamin into another form.
The body produces its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Fatty fish and cod liver oils are good food sources; other animal products and fortified processed foods have smaller amounts of the nutrient.
Vitamin D Is Important for Healthy Development of Bones
Healthy bones contain cells called osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts break down the bone as osteoblasts build it back up. This regeneration process keeps bones strong and healthy.
When a vitamin D deficiency occurs, this process cannot function properly. As a result, bones can become frail and brittle. As an illustration, imagine two trees: one thrives and one withers. When a strong wind blows, the thriving tree has the “give” that keeps it strong as it stands up against the wind. The tree that is withering and dry is unable to withstand the force and snaps in two.
Healthy bones are strong and somewhat pliable. They withstand normal weight and pressure without breaks or fractures. Weak bones can also develop deformities as they grow, which may require surgery or physical therapy.
The Risks of a Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants and Children
Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium while preventing deformity and a bone disease called rickets. Rickets was almost eliminated 100 years ago, but its numbers have been increasing as vitamin D deficiency becomes more common.
More time spent indoors, the regular use of sunscreen to prevent cancer, and insufficient amounts of vitamin D in our diets may be leading to this common deficiency. Darker skin pigmentation also makes vitamin D production from the sun more difficult.
Although breastfeeding provides a tremendous benefit to the health of a baby, only up to 25 IU of vitamin D per liter is found in breast milk. A supplement in the form of drops may be easily administered to an infant to ensure that they are getting healthy amounts of the vitamin.
Choosing Vitamin D Supplements for Babies and Children
Quality vitamin D supplements are available in liquid form. Suspended in either coconut oil or olive oil, this nutrient has no taste, color, or odor. It may be given to a child by adding a single drop onto a pacifier, into a bottle, or to a drink. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 400 IU in order to avoid a vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient that is vital for healthy cells, immune function, and bone development. A vitamin D deficiency can cause serious health problems for children, but a simple, inexpensive dietary supplement can help avoid disease and encourage proper bone growth.