If you are wondering why is vitamin D important for healthy bones in children, you need to look at its role in calcium absorption. Vitamin D is required throughout a person’s life for healthy bones as it helps the gut to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is especially essential during the years when the bones are still growing and forming their shape.
Many parents may think that rickets is a thing of the past, but how true is that? When most of us are living in areas with little ultraviolet light exposure, having a glass of milk each day may not be enough to avoid a vitamin D deficiency. To add on to the problem, many children are spending more time indoors, watching television or playing video games instead of going outside.
To fully support your children during their years of growth, look into all the foods high in vitamin D3 and talk with your health care provider about whether vitamin D3 supplements are appropriate for your family.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a bit like the planet Pluto, scientists are not sure if it is a vitamin or not. While most vitamins must be gained from the diet, vitamin D is actually manufactured by the human body. When the skin comes into contact with ultraviolet light, it stimulates a fatty chemical in the skin called 7-dihydroxycholesterol to transform into vitamin D3.
Next the newly formed vitamin D3 is sent down to the liver, where it undergoes further transformations into greater, more powerful forms of vitamin D. The final end product, (1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol) is a potent hormone which affects many aspects of health including bone growth, skin health, nutrient absorption, immune function, mood and skin health.
Though vitamin D deficiency is rare in this modern days and age, it does occur in some children. Some possible causes of vitamin D deficiency includes low exposure to ultraviolet light, liver and kidney diseases which impair the vitamin D manufacturing process, boron deficiency, hormone imbalances and magnesium deficiency. When vitamin D is low in children, the result is rickets, a condition where bones are soft, easily fractured and can become deformed.
In adults, vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia, a condition similar to rickets and osteoporosis, where the bones are weak or soft. However, even when sunlight exposure is low, vitamin D3 can still be obtained from both foods and supplements. Extra high levels of vitamin D may also have some therapeutic effects improving the conditions of the immune system and the nervous system in children.
Vitamin D And Bone Growth
It is not so much that vitamin D helps with bone growth and bone health. In actual fact, vitamin D is a co-factor or rather a side-kick for the mineral calcium which is the most important nutrient required for strong bones and healthy bone growth. Throughout the life of a human, calcium is required in constant supply for the ongoing rebuilding and strengthening of bones, but at no time is calcium more important than during childhood.
Having too little vitamin D and calcium does not just make bones weak in children, but can result in extreme bone deformities that cannot be corrected. Though these deformities can affect any bones of the body, the cranial, pelvic, spinal and leg bones are most commonly affected. When most people think of rickets, the symptom that comes to mind is genu valgum (the formation of “bow legs” when there is an outward bending of the femurs as the bones are too soft to support the weight of the body properly).
According to The National Academy of Sciences , at least 200IU of vitamin D3 is required each day to avoid the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in infants and children. This can be gained through vitamin D-rich foods, supplements and just a few minutes of direct sunlight each day.
Vitamin D Supplementation Vs Food
Why is vitamin D important when it is in our food? Can I just let my kids eat a varied diet and forget about it? In a perfect world, Yes! Of course you can. However, even though foods are the best source of vitamin D, but sad to say, it may not be in most of the food that your children consumed. While supplements may helps to boost vitamin D levels in the blood, teaching your kids to eat whole foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals is beneficial for later on in life.
Foods high in vitamin D are often high in other important vitamins and minerals for healthy bones in children, as well as essential fatty acids for nervous system support. As such, the advice is supplements should only be used for your children when absolutely necessary.
Yes, you want your children to get enough vitamin D but not too much. Out of all the vitamins, vitamin D is the one that will most likely to cause toxicity from overdosing. Though at least one study has found that doses as high as 14,000IU in adolescents is safe for children, there is usually no need to supplement more than 400IU daily. A few minutes of direct sun explosure during the summer months can provide more than 10000IU of vitamin D. Of course, not forgetting that there will be vitamin D3 in various food in your daily diet as well.
If you are living in a part of the world where there is little sunlight, or your child is unable to eat many of the vitamin D-rich foods, then supplementing with 400IU of vitamin D3 is appropriate. As well as vitamin D3 tablets, capsules and liquids, you can also give your children cod liver oil. Just one teaspoon (tsp) of cod liver oil provides approximately 400IU of vitamin D3, as well as some vitamin A and omega-3 essential fatty acids. These days it is easy to find cod liver oil capsules, as well as cod liver oil that has been naturally flavored and sweetened for children.
Sources Of Vitamin D
Basically, there are 2 types of Vitamin D which you can derive from the foods you eat. For example, fish, eggs and meats will contain vitamin D3, which is the same form of vitamin D that your body produces itself. Plants or vegetables, however, produce vitamin D in the form of vitamin D2 which is a slightly less potent and less absorbable form of vitamin D.
The University of Surrey in the UK funded a study to compare the benefits of vitamin D3 and vitamin D2. While vitamin D2 raised vitamin D levels in the blood, it was not as effective as vitamin D3. Therefore, focus primarily on vitamin D3 foods to support healthy bones in children.
Foods rich in Vitamin D3 are as below:
- Cod liver, one teaspoon (400+ D3 IU)
- Sardines, one can (500+ D3 IU)
- Salmon (360+ D3 IU)
- Mackerel (340+ D3 IU)
- Tuna, one can (200+ D3 IU)
- Milk, one glass (100+ D3 IU)
- Ox liver (150+ D3 IU)
- Egg, 1 whole (20+ D3 IU)
- Swiss cheese (10+ D3 IU)
- Shiitake Mushrooms (10+ D3 IU)
Foods rich in Vitamin D2 (IU varies with seasons):
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Button Mushrooms
- Synthetic vitamin D supplements
Other Benefits Of Vitamin D
Like all nutrients, vitamin D does not just support bone growth. In reality, it plays a number of other roles in the health and well-being of children. Vitamin D is required for nervous system health, immune strength and may help support conditions such as asthma, dermatitis, tuberculosis, diabetes and psoriasis.
It is well known that when vitamin D is low in adults, they suffer from a depressive condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Scientists are only now beginning to see that vitamin D also plays an important role in supporting children’s mood levels as well.
The University of Bristol studied over 4,000 children in the UK and discovered that those with lower vitamin D levels were significantly more likely to suffer from depression between the ages of 10 and 14. As many parents have understandable concerns over the use of antidepressants medication in pre-adolescent children, vitamin D supplementation may play an important role in the future treatment of early depression.
Women should supplement with vitamin D3 during pregnancy, and be ensuring their children have a diet rich in vitamin D from early on in life. To ensure good bone growth and fast bone healing, vitamin D3 can also be combined with other important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, boron (helps vitamin D in the mineralization of calcium), manganese and copper.
Make sure your child is getting all the vitamin D they need from playing sports, sitting outside, and consuming foods high in vitamin D3 during the winter months. At the first sign of bone softness, weakness or deformity, you should always visit your health care practitioner to get a proper diagnosis for the cause.
For healthy bones in children, vitamin D is absolutely essential. There should be no question about why is vitamin D important in your child’s diet. Your child might be getting plenty of calcium in the diet, but without adequate vitamin D the calcium won’t be properly absorbed or utilized by the body.