Vitamin D has been in the news quite a bit lately due to its benefits for the immune system. And most of us are pretty comfortable taking the supplement for ourselves. The recommendations from health Canada have just changed to allow for non-prescription status at higher doses of up to 2500 IU per day. However, when it comes to children, we tend to put the breaks on with vitamin D supplements?
Perhaps it is because we have always believed our children were getting enough Vitamin D through fortified cereals, milk and the sun. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily the case. We know that Vitamin D is produced with the sun's ultraviolet rays on your skin. However, the intensity of the sun today has led all of us to become necessarily overprotective against the potential harm. Starting at an early age, children wear sunscreen, which blocks out the ultraviolet rays, the very thing that is required for vitamin D production.
Besides the sun, the only other way your children can obtain vitamin D is through limited types of foods such as tuna, mackerel and salmon, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also found in foods that have been fortified (added D), such as cereals and dairy. Consumption of these foods is not high on the list of children's favourites, and the intake of dairy has decreased due to parental and child food choices or childhood allergies. If you are breastfeeding your child, the only way they can get vitamin D is through you. If you are deficient, their risk of deficiency also increases.
Why Does Your Child Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D ensures the body absorbs and retains calcium, phosphorus, and other critical minerals required to build bone and deposit these minerals in bones and teeth, making them stronger and healthier. It also strengthens the immune system and helps regulate cell growth. Vitamin D supports nervous system health, strengthens defences against infections, and may improve lung and heart health. Vitamin D is also necessary for mental health and wellness.
A vitamin D deficiency in young children may continue and worsen in adulthood, increasing bone fractures in older children, teens and adults. Children who continue to have insufficient Vitamin D levels may display signs of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. A long-term deficiency starting from childhood may also lead to cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, mental disorders, autoimmune disorders, MS and insulin resistance in adults.
When vitamin D supplements are helpful
Research has changed; in more recent studies, the recommendation is that infants under 12 months require 400iu per day and older children and adolescents require 600 IU per day. Mothers that are breastfeeding should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement or put a drop of Vitamin D oil on your nipple before the baby breastfeeds.
Our bodies need 10- 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on our arms, legs and face every day to start the process and maintain constant Vitamin D production. Our bodies store some Vitamin D, so missing a day here or there will not cause a deficiency. Here is a quick checklist on when to consider a Vitamin D supplement for your child.
- If your child is not able to obtain about 15 minutes of unprotected sun a day
- If your child is not consuming fortified dairy or food products
- If your child is not taking a multivitamin that contains at least 400 iu of Vitamin D
- If your child has malabsorption disorders, allergies or digestive disorders
- If your child is taking medications that reduce the absorption of vitamin D
- If you are breastfeeding and you are not taking a Vitamin D supplement
If you are considering giving your child a vitamin D supplement, look for age-specific brands. Platinum Naturals Vitamin D drops come in an option for babies and kids. The Big Friends brand also has a liquid drop for kids and a Big Friends D chewable. Other options are gummies, such as Sisu U Cubes Calcium & D3 and Herbaland D3. And for the children that are a bit older (over six years old), Progressive Sunshine Burst which comes in a small softgel for easy swallowing.
Increase Vitamin D Foods
Foods such as salmon, sardines, tuna, cod-liver oil, egg yolks and shiitake mushrooms contain a lot of vitamin D. However, many children may not love these vitamin D superfoods. Luckily, store-bought milk is often fortified with vitamin D, as are many kinds of cereal and even orange juice. Not all dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, so read the labels to be sure.
If you are still uncertain about giving your child a vitamin D supplement, reach out to your health care provider to discuss how much Vitamin D your child is getting daily and the best option for supplementation.