During the winter months, the number of hours your child gets to run around outside in the sun playing will probably decrease. Allowing your children to get out and play is still important for their social and physical well-being. Although the amount of time spent outside in the sun may be dwindling, the sun’s rays play an important factor in our vitamin D synthesis. This article will outline the importance of vitamin D for your child and how to ensure they get enough Vitamin D to stay healthy.
The vast majority of our body’s vitamin D requirements can still come from the sun even when cloud cover reduces the rays by 50%. Vitamin D is actually the precursor to our body’s utilizable form, cholecalciferol (AKA vitamin D3). This transition occurs when UVB radiation converts the precursor form to active cholecalciferol in the skin. This is the major reason for the need for a healthy amount of sun rays.
The classical disease of vitamin D deficiency in children is rickets. It is characterized by soft bones and deformities due to the growing bones failing to fully mineralize into cohesive structures. With the help of the fortification of store-bought milk with vitamin D (beginning in the early 1900s), the prevalence of rickets has greatly declined in the United States. However, there are a few populations still at risk for deficiency including prolonged-breastfed infants, those with milk allergies and/or lactose intolerance, and those with other exclusion diets (e.g. vegetarians and vegans). Research studies have shown that most cases of rickets occur in African-American infants whom are exclusively breastfed. Although breastfeeding provides infants with many wonderful benefits, human milk alone does not provide the necessary requirement of vitamin D to meet the needs of a growing infant. The current recommendation is for all breast feeding infants to take 400IU Vitamin D daily.
Our diet is one of the major ways we can actively control our health. There are two forms of vitamin D that can come from food: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol, plant-based) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, animal-based). It is shown that both forms of dietary vitamin D provide an equal benefit, but the amount of plant-based foods with a significant amount of Vitamin D is much lower. One of the most common forms of dietary vitamin D comes in the fortified milk products mentioned earlier. However, if your child cannot handle dairy, saltwater fish including herring, salmon, and tuna are another great option. For children over 1 year of age, our doctors recommend vitamin D supplements of 1000 IU daily.
Although the days of your child running around in the sun at summer camp or swimming in the pool or nearby lake may be over, the impact of vitamin D shouldn’t be forgotten. The combination of keeping your child physically active and providing a healthy, balanced diet will continue to bolster positive bone growth from the utilization of dynamic vitamin D.
Written by Kristen Punshon, OMS-II Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Auburn and Ellen L. Royal, MD