Seven out of ten kids have low vitamin D levels

Nutrition — By on August 4, 2009 at 6:23 am

A new report reveals that 70 million American kids (ranging in age from toddlers to teens) are at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and bone problems due to deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D.  Low vitamin D levels are about 6 times more common in young black Americans because darker skin produces less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. See also this story in the Washington Post.)
This storm has been gathering for quite some time. 

Vitamin D levels in adults are also low and vitamin D deficiency is being linked to an increasing number of serious, chronic conditions and auto-immune diseases. (See also my post “Vitamin D. Now I’m a believer”).

Everyone seems to agree on what’s causing the problem. We spend less time outdoors, we’ve been drilled by dermatologists (and cosmetic companies) on the use of sunscreen to protect our skin against skin cancer and premature aging. We (and our kids) get a lot less vitamin D from our diet, chiefly because we drink less milk and more soda than we used to.

(Milk does not contain vitamin D naturally, of course. It’s fortified with vitamin D. Fish are the best natural sources of vitamin D.)
It’s harder to agree on the solution.  Some argue that high dose vitamin D supplements are the answer. It’s a logical leap, but it’s still a leap. While we have evidence linking low vitamin D levels to many diseases, there’s less evidence to prove that taking vitamin D supplements reduces those risks.  (Correlation does not equal causation.)

It also takes a heck of a lot of vitamin D supplementation to correct a vitamin D deficiency. While the current RDA for vitamin D is 400IU, it can take 10,000 to 50,000IU a day to replenish depleted vitamin D stores in the body. High doses of vitamin D have been found to be safe and well-tolerated.

Nonetheless, many experts are wary of this kind of super-high-dose supplementation without medical oversight.
Exposing the unprotected skin to sunlight is a much more efficient way to raise vitamin D levels in the body, but it proves very difficult to make recommendations about how much sunlight a given person needs. It depends on how much skin is exposed, your latitude, your altitude, the time of day, the time of year, atmospheric conditions, and your skin color. (Yikes!).  Plus, you have to weigh the benefits of vitamin D production against the risk of skin cancer and/or sun damage.

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