Vitamin D-ilemmas! Is your family getting enough?
Despite living in a sunny country, many people in the UAE are Vitamin D deficient Dr Mayada Samir a Specialist Paediatrician at Medcare Medical Centre in JBR explains why it’s essential your whole family gets enough Vitamin D
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an oil-soluble vitamin which is either consumed through foods and dietary supplements or produced in response to sun exposure. Research says that we get 50-90% of our vitamin D through the latter.
Why does my family need it?
This vitamin has an influence over our entire bodies, from helping with the absorption of dietary calcium in the intestine, to using calcium to help build strong bones.
There are very few food items that are rich in vitamin D. It is mainly found in oily fish, beef liver, egg yolks and fortified foods (such as some cereals and infant formula).
Although the Gulf area is sunny almost all year, the incidence of vitamin D deficiency is as high as 75% among some of its population. The fortification of infant formula with vitamin D has resulted in a drop in rickets’ rank as a major health problem in almost all developed countries.
Vitamin D for our children
Children grow at an extraordinary rate, and the size of their bones double several times during infancy and childhood. They need large amounts of Vitamin D to help with growth spurts. In some cases, Vitamin D deficiency can start as early as during pregnancy, in the womb, with Vitamin D-deficient mothers give birth to vitamin D-deficient babies. Vitamin D-deficient nursing mothers lead to the same problem.
Later, being too scared of sun exposure and keeping the children at home often exacerbates the problem. The overuse of sunscreens aggravates the deficiency. Having dark skin is also a natural risk factor for an even higher deficiency.
It’s about balance, although direct, prolonged sun exposure at dangerous hours of the day has been proven to be a risk factor for skin cancer, too little can result in Vitamin D deficiency.
What are the dangers of vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a wide number of diseases. It has been found that prenatal vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of giving birth to a child with an autistic disorder.
Vitamin D deficiency in infants and children is only manifested when the levels dip too low. Clinical signs may include a soft skull, bow legs, an abnormal chest shape, weakness, delayed walking and teething, irritability and, in extreme cases, short stature.
If the deficiency goes unnoticed, the child can contract repeated infections and suffer from muscle pain, cramps, seizures and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, there can be repeated bone fractures.
Moreover, vitamin D deficiency contributes to the failure of asthma treatments, depression, obesity, hypertension and diabetes in high-risk children, in addition to easy fatigue and mood changes.
To get the required intake of vitamin D with the least risk possible, the following has to be taken into consideration:
- Sun exposure has to be limited to 15-20 minutes every day or every other day, ideally from 9-11 am, with direct sun exposure to bare skin (not from behind windows) of the face, arms and legs with no umbrella or sunscreen. Dark skin needs longer exposure to get the same benefit. Remember: sunburn theoretically increases future risk of skin cancer.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants and children receive a daily supplement of minimum 400 IU to prevent rickets. Doses can be higher as per your doctor’s recommendations.
- Keep supplements away from the reach of children as one bottle of vitamin D can cause severe damage to their kidneys if taken as a single dose.
- Look for fortified food items such as fortified milk, cereals, orange juice, etc.
- Get your children checked if you suspect they could be deficient.