What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins responsible for helping the body absorb calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. All of these are essential for the formation of healthy teeth and bones and maintaining good overall health.
Today’s lifestyle and diet choices mean that many of us are at risk of having one or more vitamin deficiencies. A poorly functioning digestive system can also lead to this problem. Vitamins, together with enzymes, help to release energy in the body and maintain essential chemical functions.
Vitamin D Deficiency in Children
If the vitamin D deficiency level is mild, there is no reason to be worried too much because it does not cause serious symptoms, but you may find your child tiring easily and complaining of general aches and pains.
If this happens, watch closely for these other common signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in children:
Serious vitamin D deficiency in children is known as rickets and usually manifests by around 2 years old. At this stage, it causes calcium deficiency in the blood. This is serious and the child needs to be admitted to hospital immediately.
Although it’s rare, vitamin D deficiency in children may also result in weakness of the heart muscles.
Benefits of Vitamin D for Toddlers and Babies
Vitamins create a key part of your child’s healthy diet. They’re a necessary part of what keeps your child fit, healthy and happy. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to provide enough vitamin D to your children.
Vitamin D is crucial for the normal, healthy development of children as
- It helps them absorb sufficient calcium and phosphate to make their growing bones stronger.
- Both vitamin D2 and D3 are essential for the body to build stronger and healthy bones, especially for your kids.
- Vitamin D helps body to absorb minerals like calcium and helps in building strong bones and teeth.
- It also acts as a hormone and helps in regulating the immune system and overall cell growth.
- It helps your kids to prevent rickets, the bone disease that leads to fractures and deformity.
You may feel that playing outside in the sun for some time and drinking milk will be enough to ensure that your kids are getting enough Vitamin D, but this is often not the case.
Sources of Vitamin D
The obvious first choice for babies is milk, but you need to be sure they’re old enough to digest it (at around 12 months). Vitamin D-fortified whole milk could be just what you’re looking for. According to the NIH, nearly all milk and some other dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese sold in the USA is fortified with vitamin D. Wherever you’re, check the labels on the packaging to see if it’s fortified.
If your child is not very fond of milk, you could also try fortified orange juice although this does not have the benefit of calcium included.
Fortified yogurt is a good source of both vitamin D and calcium. Many babies can begin to tolerate yogurt at about four to six months of age – at around the time they start on solid foods. Plain, unsweetened yogurt made from whole milk is best. You can always add a little fruit yourself. This way, you control the amount of sugar your child is getting.
Fatty fish like salmon is a good source of vitamin D, according to the National Institute of Health. You can start introducing fish into your baby’s diet at six months.
Other types of fish to consider are tuna, mackerel and sardines, though these are slightly stronger-tasting than salmon and may not be as easily accepted at first.
Another good source of natural vitamin D is egg. At around 9 months of age, babies can start taking egg yolks.
While egg yolk allergies aren’t very common, watch for any potential signs of allergy. In fact, you should be very observant whenever you introduce any new food.
Vitamin D-fortified, ready-to-eat cereal can help increase your baby’s intake of the essential vitamin though you need to be careful there is not too much sugar added.
Around 15-30 minutes exposure to sunshine a couple of times a week should be sufficient to trigger the body’s internal mechanism for making Vitamin D. If no sunscreen is used, you should take EXTRA CARE to limit the time spent in the sun.
Recommended Vitamin D Dosage for Children
Many doctors recommend Vitamin D supplementation for all children up to adolescence. Your doctor will know what’s right for your situation.
“According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), the daily intake of vitamin D should be 400 IU for all infants, children, and adolescents, beginning in the first few days of life, and most physicians worldwide agree with this opinion.”
The findings in many reports about increasing and widespread vitamin D deficiency suggest that the recommended intakes are probably inadequate and need to be increased to at least 800 IU/day of vitamin D. More specifically, some researchers suggest an intake of 400 – 1000 IU/day of vitamin D for children with inadequate sun exposure, no fortified-food supplementations, or with dark skins, from 1 year to 18 years of life to prevent deficiency and avoid aggressive treatment of this deficiency with 1000–2000 IU/day (or 200,000 IU every 3 months).
Check with your doctor
You can see from the above how confusing it can be when trying to determine the appropriate dosage yourself. So it’s best to always follow your doctor’s recommendation regarding dosages – recommendations on packaging are often unclear and confusing and your doctor will know what’s best in your situation.
Some health problems are treated with higher doses of vitamin D! But this should always and only be under a doctor’s care, right?
Side Effects of Too Much Vitamin D for Children
Although unlikely unless the recommended supplement dosage is exceeded, consuming too much vitamin D can be dangerous. Children take too much vitamin D may develop unusual high levels of calcium in the blood, also known as hypercalcaemia. This may affect the digestive tract and therefore cause constipation, vomiting, and decreased appetite. Few other signs like muscle weakness, bone pain, frequent urination, weight loss, dehydration etc may be seen. Moreover, high calcium levels can create kidney stones that can cause awful pain and finally kidney damage.
In the case of a severe vitamin D deficiency in children or too much Vitamin D intake, have a doctor check for you as soon as you can.