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Vitamin D: Why You and Your Kids Need it NOW

Vitamin D: Why You and Your Kids Need it NOW

This morning at breakfast, I remembered that the kids and I hadn’t taken our vitamins since before vacation, a week ago.  Not really a big deal, though with all the press that vitamin D has gotten lately, I made sure the kids and I took ours today.

What can happen if we don’t have enough of it?

Jane Brody in the New York Times this week called vitamin D “the most talked-about and written-about supplement of the decade.”  It seems that not only are we not getting enough vitamin D, we also don’t fully know how broad the ramifications of that may be.

Johns Hopkins pediatric endocrinologist Dominique Long, at a recent endocrinology conference, presented a case in which a 4-month baby showed up in the ER with what was eventually diagnosed as rickets . While rickets are not unheard of in infants, this instance was caused by a lactose intolerant mother who didn’t take prenatal vitamins consistently.  (Moms-to-be – don’t forget. Even with prenatal vitamins, 30 percent of expecting mothers are still deficient.)

Certainly, vitamin D is vital to bone health, and our bodies cannot efficiently absorb calcium or phosphorous without it. But Long emphasized that vitamin D deficiency “is no longer just about the bones, citing recent research pointing to non-skeletal actions of vitamin D in vitro, and vitamin D receptors showing up throughout the body.” Recent studies have shown that optimizing your vitamin D levels may help prevent breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. Long did note that those studies are based on retrospective data and need to updated.

How much is enough?

That question seems to not have an easy answer, as scientists are continually refining the amount required. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast-fed infants receive a daily supplement of 400 international units (IU) until they are weaned and consuming a quart or more each day of fortified milk or formula. The Institute of Medicine recommends that children and adults up to age 50 get 200 IU of vitamin D daily, for adults over age 50 it’s 400 to 600 IU daily. While a revision upward of these amounts is in the works, most experts expect it will err on the low side.

Getting enough vitamin D in what we eat is tough:  there are foods fortified with it  (such as milk, infant formula and orange juice), but that doesn’t supply enough, and most people – especially kids – don’t eat enough wild-caught, oily fish, the common “natural” source for vitamin D. Vitamin D is made by the body when exposed without sunscreen to the sun’s UVB rays, though that is dependent on time of the year and how far from the equator one lives. Experts generally recommend 5 – 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure (on legs or arms or backs, not faces) 2 or 3 times a week.

Dr. Long also pointed out that calcium levels should be watched, as well, as “low milk intake during childhood is associated with a 2-fold-greater risk of fracture.”  Yikes – fractures get my attention.  The kids and I are definitely getting ice cream tonight, and taking our vitamins in the morning.

Once employed in tv production, Jill Austin now uses those management skills to boss around her husband, son, daughter and dog, with minimal success. When she’s not turning daily life into a production, Jill is a free-lance writer, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete and an optimist.