One of the headlines in the Daily Mail Health section reported that a study in Lancet showed women who took vitamin D supplements did not show increase in bone density. This is surprising after women have been told for years that they need to take vitamin D since they are more prone to osteoporosis (thinning of bones making it more likely to break or fracture). Scientists, researchers, and doctors now know that vitamin D does so much more than just help prevent bone diseases, like rickets and osteomalacia which were classic disease from vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D essentially helps our bodies absorb calcium so that we would then have strong bones. IN humans there are two important forms, ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) which is made by plants, and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) which is made actually by human skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from sunlight. in our diet, vitamin D can be naturally found in fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil which I am certain very few people eat any more. Foods which are processed, including cow’s milk and soymilk, may be fortified with vitamin D2 or D3. Recent research shows that vitamin D actually also protects against high blood pressure, cancer, and many autoimmune diseases.
What about for children? I can still remember our pediatrician informing us when Claire was an infant that despite how great breast milk is, it lacks vitamin D and therefore we had to give her supplementation in the form of tri vi sol drops (vitamin A, D, C). She did not like the taste and I did not blame her (I tend to try everything that I put in her mouth back then). I actually measured vitamin D levels as a part of the research I conducted on children with chronic rhinosinusitis, hoping to demonstrate that there may be an association between vitamin D deficiency and chronic sinus inflammation. While my data could not prove that, I did manage to find out through blood test that I was so severely deficient that I was below the lowest limit of what is considered normal. This led to an immediate trip to Costco and my buying a bottle of vitamin D, 1000 IU per little pill, and I remember popping 3-4 every week hoping to quickly rid my cancer risk amongst others. While I am certainly not an expert on vitamin D, I did learn that there are definite geographic variations on risk for vitamin D deficiency depending on where people live and how much or little sun exposure they get. This does make me feel better, after 17 years in the midwest (5 in Minnesota, 2 in Illinois, 10 in Kansas City), we are now in Florida and I certainly enjoyed an amazing day in the sun as we are vacationing for 2 days in Long Boat Key/Sarasota.
For the past several years, I inform all parents that it it helpful to allow their child about 20 minutes of direct sunlight exposure WITHOUT sunblock, and then go ahead and put sunblock on. Sunblock can effectively block out over 90% of the UVB rays which are necessary to allow our skin to activate and make functional vitamin D. I explain to parents that especially if their child is fair skinned, such that parents assume these kids will “burn” easily so must have sunblock at all times, these are the kids at risk for deficiency as they are likely not drinking a ton of cod liver oil. Again, I am not advocating you allow your child to get any sun burn, but simply that even if in mid morning and afternoons, let them get some sun and they will hopefully avoid vitamin D deficiency. African Americans are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency because they absorb the lowest levels of UV lights due to having ample melanin pigment in their skin.
I only learned after training about the impact of vitamin D on tuberculosis. In the 1940’s, sanitorium/sanatarium were very popular in Europe and US where patients were sent to for “fresh air”, when in fact it was the sunlight and vitamin D that “cured” many. Thank goodness tuberculosis is not a common illness for adult or children in current times, however, the importance of vitamin D remains unclear, especially in children. I just know that I do everything to make sure Claire is not deficient. The levels recommended for children are based on age, and can be found here. For children aged 1-13, 600 IU is recommended. Those Lil’Critter gummy vitamins for children only has 400 IU per serving of 2 gummies, so don’t think that just because your child takes that it may be enough. Talk to your pediatrician, and get your kids to eat well. Lucky for us, Claire has always loved salmon and eats it about twice per week.
Unless our children love or even have access to cod liver oil, sockeye salmon, steelhead trout, herring, your best bet is SILK soymilk, flavored or unflavored. This has the most fortified vitamin D levels for children. Since we are lactose intolerant and I have witnessed so many children who consume way too much dairy and have upper airway and ENT problems which I attribute to the Milk and Cookie Disease, and help them through A Healthier Wei. Here is a list of top 10 foods that contain vitamin D.
This may explain why Claire’s Great Grandmother Tilly, who will be 100 next February, is still so active, healthy and strong. She never forgets how religiously she was forced to take cod liver fish oil as a child and adolescent. I may have to go buy some soon.
Dr. Julie Wei is a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist and the author of A Healthier Wei. As a mother herself, Dr. Wei is a passionate advocate for improving children's health through better diet and dietary habits. She has been committed to helping parents learn how to eliminate their child's ear, nose, and throat problems simply by reducing excessive sugar and dairy intake, as well as minimizing habitual late night snacking. She hopes to raise awareness for the need for accountability by both medical professionals and parents to ensure that children are not prescribed or take unnecessary medications long term.
When she is not in the clinic, operating room, or conducting research, you will find her in the kitchen preparing food with love along with her daughter Claire. If you sit next to her on the plane, she will likely share with you information about how to minimize choking hazards in young children, and many other tips for improving your child's health.