Health & Fitness / 25 February, 2021 / Bianca Parau

The Sunshine Nutrient: Why Our Children Need Vitamin D

Vitamin D, is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” as we need a good dose of sunshine to synthesise vitamin D.

It plays such an important role in how our body functions on a day to day level and even more so during periods of rapid growth, during pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as during illness and with auto-immune conditions.

This fat soluble vitamin (is actually a hormone) that is essential for healthy bones, muscles and teeth as it regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies.  It also plays a powerful role in the proper functioning of our immune systems and our mood.

Where does vitamin D come from?

Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in the UK.

As the main source of vitamin D is sunshine, in the UK the sun is generally not producing the right wavelength of UVB rays for our skin to make vitamin D.  From October to March we are at our most vulnerable for vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is also available in small quantities from mushrooms, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards or trout), eggs, meat and certain milks (i.e. Arla) in the UK.  Vitamin D quantities in milk, meat and eggs differ, depending on the season.  Some yoghurts and breakfast cereals and all infant formula milks are enriched with vitamin D.

Breastmilk does contain small amounts of vitamin D, but this is dependent on the maternal vitamin D status.

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Who is at risk of deficiency and how much to take?

The risk factors for vitamin D deficiency in infants and children include:

  • Infants who are exclusively breastfed for longer than 6 months and where weaning onto complimentary food is delayed (even more so in maternal vitamin D deficiency)
  • Darker skin tones
  • Poor dietary intakes with i.e. fussy eaters
  • Limited sunlight exposure in older children and adolescents
  • Children with disabilities (limited time spent outside)
  • Children taking anticonvulsant treatment
  • Seasonal changes in sunlight potency and latitude
  • Clothing and the use of sunscreen

The Department of Health recommends vitamin D supplementation for:

  • All adults and children over the age of 1 should take 10ug (especially during autumn and winter months)
  • All mothers should take a vitamin D supplement throughout pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.
  • Babies under 1 year of age should be given 8.5ug – 10ug unless they are taking > 500ml or formula milk fortified with vitamin
  • Infants or children previously treated for Rickets or a vitamin D deficiency
  • Those in at risk groups should take 10ug daily (all year around)
  • Take care to not supplement with more than the recommended amount of vitamin D (10ug) as this is harmful in the long run.

What to know about vitamin D supplements?

There are two types of Vitamin D:

  • Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2) a plant product and
  • Colecalciferol (Vitamin D3) obtained from fish or mammals

Both Vitamin D2 and D3 are equally effective.   Most vitamin D3 sources are acceptable to vegetarians and those adhering to a Halal or Kosher diets as the main commercial source is Lanolin.

Tip: 10ug = 400IU

Multivitamin containing vitamin D

When purchasing a vitamin and mineral supplement, always check the individual product label for suitability or ask your pharmacist.  It is also advised to raise any allergy concerns when purchasing a vitamin and mineral supplement to avoid any adverse reactions.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s nutrition and general supplementation, it is recommended to seek the help of a Registered Paediatric Dietitian.

Multivitamin & Multibiotic, Zita West x My Baba

Article by Bianca Parau, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian

Bianca can be contacted for appointments on 075 003 88108 or at bianca@lavie-nutrition.com

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