Q: I keep hearing about how important it is to take vitamin D for my bone health, but is it also important for my kids?
A: Now is a great time to be asking this question. As we head into November, this is the time when vitamin D levels start to decrease for everyone, including children, because we all get less sunshine. Vitamin D is important in all stages of life, and unfortunately, it is common to forget children need this vitamin too, and they are often deficient.
How many children are deficient? The answer can vary depending on what cut-off point different researchers decide to use. Depending on how the research statistics are gathered and the age groups that are studied, somewhere between 20 to 69 percent of young children and teenagers are deficient in vitamin D. These statistics make it clear there is a problem in this young population.
For parents, it is important to be aware of the need for vitamin D in young children and teenagers. Most of us have heard vitamin D is necessary for bone health. Infancy through the teenage years is the main time span for creating healthy bones. What happens during these developmental years can impact a person for the rest of their life. In addition to bone health, vitamin D might have some other important effects, too. Although this is an area of ongoing study, so far, the research shows getting enough vitamin D can help reduce asthma attacks by 59 percent in children. Appropriate levels of vitamin D in an asthmatic child can help reduce trips to the hospital.
Vitamin D might also help reduce the chance of your child getting a cold or the flu. In some instances, when one child in a family gets sick, the rest of the family also catches the bug. Making sure your children have enough vitamin D can reduce the chance that the whole family gets sick.
As research progresses, it is likely more benefits will be discovered about vitamin D. For example, research is starting to hint that having adequate vitamin D might reduce the likelihood of your child getting type I diabetes.
It is important for parents to be aware of their children’s need for vitamin D. This need spans a lifetime starting from conception. Even couples who are considering having children should pay attention to the need for vitamin D.
Plan to talk with your pediatrician about this important nutrient, and even consider having your child’s vitamin D level periodically tested. In terms of getting enough, consider naturally occurring sources of vitamin D, such as salmon. Also, consider fortified foods like milk. In some cases, it may be appropriate to consider supplementation, choosing vitamin D3. Make sure you talk with your pediatrician to determine what fits with your child’s individual situation.
Shawn Palmer is a naturopathic doctor.