In October 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that children are not getting enough vitamin D. According to the report released by the Academy, children should increase the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D from 200 IU to 400 IU (1).
Why is this important? Because vitamin D is a key nutrient that plays a variety of important roles in the body. When people think of vitamin D, strong bones often comes to mind, and they would be correct. But vitamin D actually does a lot more than keep our bones strong and healthy.
Vitamin D is also necessary for normal immune function by the promotion of phagocytosis (defensive cells within the body which engulf foreign objects that invade the body), prevention of the development of cancerous tumors, and functions that modulate the immune system (2).
Vitamin D also stimulates the release of seratonin a neurotransmitter responsible for a variety of functions including anger, appetite, mood, and metabolic functioning (3). Deficiencies of vitamin D trigger autoimmune diseases such as diabetes type I, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (4). Vitamin D deficiencies, therefore, would lead to long term and incredibly devastating effects on the body regardless of a person's age.
So now pediatricians are advising that children from newborns to teens get more vitamin D. Okay, so how are children to do this? Vitamin D is found in milk and dairy products, tuna, makerel, salmon and other fatty fish; additionally, many cereals are fortified with vitamin D (2).
In addition to food sources, children would benefit from playing outdoors. Sunlight actually stimulates vitamin D production. Many parents of children with lighter skin may worry about their children becoming exposed to too much sunlight, but humans produce a hormone called melanin which helps to protect against harmful rays from the sun by darkening of the skin.
So for lighter skinned persons, spending a few minutes a day outdoors maybe enough to stimulate vitamin D synthesis within the skin (2). Children who have naturally darker skin also produce vitamin D, they would simply have to spend a little more time outside to produce the same amount of vitamin D (2).
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns infants whether or not they are breastfed should begin receiving supplements of 400 IU vitamin D per day; children and teens who are not getting enough vitamin D through food should take supplements to get their levels up to 400 IU per day. And the AAP also recommends that children who are already at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency might require higher doses of the nutrient (1).
So there you have it. Early preventative measures can go a long way toward helping your child lead a long, active and happy life.
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