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Children need more vitamin D, researchers say

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Like adults, children require vitamin D -- it’s one of those often-ignored fundamentals. But how much? The vitamin is crucial for, among other things, bone development, so no one wants to skimp. But not many experts want to go overboard either.

Doctors and researchers don’t all agree on the proper amount kids should get, but some seem fairly certain that many aren’t getting enough.

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Using the National Health and Nutrition Survey, researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston and elsewhere analyzed blood levels of vitamin D in about 5,000 children -- ages 1 to 11 -- from 2001 through 2006.

About 20% of kids had levels lower than those recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics -- 50 nanomoles per liter of blood (or 20 nanograms per milliliter). A dramatically higher percentage of kids had levels lower than the 75 nmol/L recommended by some researchers.

The problem was especially pronounced among Hispanic and black children. People with darker skin don’t synthesize the vitamin as easily as those with lighter skin.

Ultimately, the researchers come down in favor of vitamin D supplements for all children. But they concede that we need more information to better understand the health ramifications of low levels of vitamin D -- and just how much supplementation should be taking place.

The research was published today in the journal Pediatrics.

Here’s ...

- the abstract,

- the news release from Children’s Hospital Boston,

- the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on vitamin D levels (revised last year),

- and a recent Los Angeles Times article about the potential health effects of the vitamin. That story, ‘It may be vitamin D’s day in the sun,’ notes: ‘Long considered just a supplement consumed with calcium for bone health, this humble vitamin may have untapped potential in fighting or preventing disease, suggests an explosion of new research. Not only has it shown promise in reducing the risk of, among other things, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, but it also seems to improve infertility, weight control and memory.’

Want to know more? Here’s ...

- the upshot on vitamin D, from the Office of Dietary Supplements, including what foods naturally contain it (very few) and how the body makes it (using sunlight),

- information from Medline Plus on the blood test for vitamin D or, more specifically, 25-hydroxyvitamin D,

- and the strength of evidence it has for treating various conditions, courtesy the National Institutes of Health. Rickets, you’ve likely heard of. Other potential targets may come as a surprise.

-- Tami Dennis


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