By Katie Mulligan
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in certain foods such as fatty fish and it can be made by the body from exposure to sunlight. This so-called “sunshine vitamin” has been getting a lot of attention lately, because scientists are finding that many people are vitamin-D deficient, likely to the result of eating less fish and getting less sun. Once thought to be useful only in bone development, the benefits of vitamin D are now considered to be important throughout the lifecycle to help prevent colon and other cancers, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis, maintain muscle strength, and prevent bone fractures from osteoporosis.
MOTHERS AND BABIES
Vitamin D is important during pregnancy and lactation. A mother’s vitamin D level is related to proper tooth development in the fetus–and being deficient is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures in infants. Children who are born prematurely or with low birth weights are at the highest risk for decreased bone mineralization and poor tooth development. Sometimes low birth weight and prematurity are caused by maternal vitamin D deficiency. Adequate maternal and infant vitamin D levels have been associated with a decreased risk of type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis in children. Pregnant and lactating women can ask their doctor to check their vitamin D status with a blood test.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled the amount of vitamin D it recommends for infants, children and adolescents to 400 IU (International Units).Â This amount of vitamin D is intended to prevent and treat rickets and prevent osteoporosis.Â According to the AAP breast-fed infants should receive a vitamin D supplement starting in the first few days of life, and all non-breastfed infants, as well as older children, who are receiving less than 32 ounces of formula or vitamin D fortified milk per day should also be taking a vitamin D supplement.Â The current recommendation for adult males and females up to age 70 is also 400 IU, but many experts think this number is too low. The Institute of Medicine says that we shouldn’t exceed 2,000 IU per day for anyone older than 1 year old and 1,000 IU per day for infants younger than 1 year old, but some studies have shown that toxicity doesn’t occur until 10,000 IU per day, so it is possible that the safety margin is actually much higher than where it is currently set.
WHERE TO GET YOUR VITAMIN D
To make sure you and your family are getting enough vitamin D, drink vitamin D-fortified milk (all pasteurized milk is vitamin D fortified). Eat more fish, and spend time in the sun. Three and a half ounces of cooked salmon offers about 360 IU, while one cup of vitamin D-fortified milk provides 98 IU, and one egg yolk offers 25 IU.
When sunshine hits your skin, your body makes its own vitamin D. This is the most efficient way to get the vitamin. Aim for at least 10 minutes of sunshine per day during the summer without sunscreen, and then cover up to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays that can lead to skin cancer. During the winter months you might want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also consider giving a supplement to infants and young children since breast milk is deficient in vitamin D. Until new guidelines are set, make sure you are getting at least the recommended daily amounts for vitamin D. And don’t be surprised if some day we’re told to up our intake.
For more information, visit these websites:
World’s Healthiest Foods
Katie Mulligan is a registered dietitian specializing in pediatrics. Through her practice, Nurturing Nutrition, Katie provides individualized nutrition counseling to children (ages birth to 18) and their families.