Vitamin D is important for strong bones and calcium absorption and, in children, it is necessary for their growing bodies. In the past, getting 400 International Units (IUs) a day from both food and sunlight was considered enough for growing children. More recently, it has been recommended that children take vitamin D supplements of at least 1,000 IUs per day in addition to diet and sun exposure. But is it necessary for all children to take this much vitamin D?
Why Children Need Vitamin D
Children need vitamin D for optimum calcium absorption in order to build strong bones. Vitamin D optimizes the absorption of calcium from foods, inhibits loss of calcium from bones and aids in getting the calcium deposited into the bones. The stronger the bones are when children are young; the healthier bones will be as they grow older. Though it is rare today, children who have a vitamin D deficiency can acquire rickets, an illness characterized by the following symptoms:
- Bowed legs
- Knock knees
- Skull bone softening
- Spinal curvature
- Increased joint size
How Children Can Get Enough Vitamin D
While there are not many foods that contain vitamin D, some foods, such as milk, yogurt, orange juice and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D. If a child drank two cups of milk a day, ate one bowl of cereal and drank on cup of fortified orange juice, he would get his daily requirement of vitamin D. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the following foods also contain vitamin D:
- Cod liver oil
- Tuna fish
- Fortified margarine
Aside from getting vitamin D from foods, children can acquire vitamin D from spending time in the sun. For fair-skinned children, 15 minutes a day in the sun (without sun protection) can give them a full day’s worth of vitamin D. The darker a person’s skin is, the longer it takes to absorb enough sunlight to make vitamin D. If the body makes more vitamin D than it needs, it simply stores the excess for use later on. Once there is enough stored, the body stops making vitamin D until it needs more. Taking supplements, however, can cause an overload of vitamin D in the system and can become toxic, causing serious health problems.
When do Children Need Vitamin D Supplements?
Until recently, doctors believed that children needed to supplement at least 1,000 IUs of vitamin D in order to grow and maintain healthy bones. However, recent research of six different studies found that healthy children who get enough vitamin D from foods and sun exposure do not benefit at all from adding vitamin D to their diet in supplement form. Of the combined six studies of children age one month to 19 years old, 343 children took a placebo and 541 children were given vitamin D supplements. After three months, there was no difference in bone density between the children on the placebo and the children being supplemented with vitamin D.
So, when is it necessary for children to take vitamin D supplements? The researchers did observe that children who had low levels of vitamin D in their blood did benefit from taking vitamin D supplements. Children who are on a restricted diet and who do not drink milk, eat dairy products or eat meat should also take vitamin D supplements. But if a child is healthy, is eating a balanced diet and is in sunshine on a regular basis, there is no need to take vitamin D supplements.
If parents are unsure whether or not their child should take vitamin D supplements, see a doctor and have the child’s blood tested. If the child’s levels are normal, then supplements are not necessary. If levels are low, talk to the doctor about the appropriate amount of vitamin D supplements for the child.
Children need vitamin D as they grow for a healthy body, but supplementation of vitamin D may not be necessary for all children. Talk to your doctor about your options before deciding whether or not to give your child vitamin D supplements.
Office of Dietary Supplements “Vitamin D”
Science Daily “Vitamin D Supplements Do Not Increase Bone Density in Healthy Children, review Find”