By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (October 8, 2009)—A study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that more than half of all children living in the US aren’t getting enough vitamin D, possibly increasing their risk of developing heart disease later in life.
The deal with D
The sunshine vitamin—so named because the body produces vitamin D upon exposure to the sun—is actually a hormone. In addition to helping build strong bones, recent research has uncovered other important roles that vitamin D plays in the body, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer prevention. Low levels of vitamin D also seem to increase the risk of neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis, and may be implicated as a cause of dementia in older people.
As part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers measured vitamin D levels and evaluated the heart disease risk of 6,275 young people aged 1 to 21 years. Some results:
• 9% of the children, corresponding to 7.6 million children and adolescents, were deficient in vitamin D, with levels less than 15 ng/mL.
• Another 61%, representing about 51 million children, had insufficient vitamin D with levels between 15 and 29 ng/mL.
While experts argue the optimal level of vitamin D, most agree that levels of 30 ng/mL or higher are sufficient.
Among those children most likely to be deficient in vitamin D were girls, older children, non-Hispanic blacks, Mexican Americans, those from poorer families, obese children, and those who spent more time watching TV, playing video games, or using computers. Children who drank milk every day and those who took supplements containing vitamin D were less likely to be deficient.
When looking at cardiovascular disease risk, researchers found that children and adolescents with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to have high blood pressure and lower calcium and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for improper bone formation and heart disease.
How much is enough?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children from infancy through adolescence take at least 400 IU of vitamin D each day. “Although our study shows that a significant proportion of the US pediatric population has low vitamin D levels, only 4% of the population is taking the currently recommended supplement dose,” the study’s authors commented.
Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon (which contains 360 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving), mackerel (345 IU), and tuna (200 IU); egg yolks (20 IU per egg); and fortified foods like some yogurts, orange juice, and cheese. Cod liver oil supplements may contain up to 400 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon.
Exposing the hands, arms, and face to the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for about 5 to 30 minutes two times per week helps the body produce adequate vitamin D during the summer months. People with darker skin, those who are obese or elderly, those who have a medical condition that interferes with their ability to absorb fats, or those with kidney or liver disease are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Consult your pediatrician to determine how much vitamin D is right for your child.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.
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