Slip on a t-shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat! We’re all urged to keep those sunlight rays away from our skin, but in our eagerness to prevent every possibility of skin cancer are we exposing our children to the other very harmful possibility of Vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D is a vitamin most well known for its major action of enhancing the body’s ability to absorb calcium from the diet. Vitamin D also has some other very important actions such as enhancing phosphorus absorption and playing a vital role in the immune system. Perhaps the importance of Vitamin D is best demonstrated by looking at the effects of Vitamin D deficiency. Without enough Vitamin D children are prone to develop rickets, a disease where young developing bones become soft and bendy, giving a bowed-leg, knocked-knee look and increasing the risk of fractures and breaks. Other serious symptoms of deficiency are grand mal seizures, fever, cough and vomiting then cardio-respiratory arrest.
During pregnancy Vitamin D is essential for foetal growth and bone mineralisation, and Vitamin D is stored up in the body to be used by the newborn after birth to protect against tetany, convulsions and heart failure. Because of this it is important for pregnant mothers to be aware of their own Vitamin D levels particularly in the last trimester of pregnancy when foetal bone growth is the greatest. After birth, a newborn’s stores of Vitamin D are used up in approximately the first 8 weeks of life. Newborns then obtain their Vitamin D from breast milk, although this too can be almost non-existent depending on mother’s own Vitamin D levels. Adding Cod Liver Oil to breast milk or a Vitamin D fortified formula is very important if this is the case.
The main source of Vitamin D is from sunlight. Sunlight levels vary greatly between different times of the day, seasons of the year, even between continents, and so it is hard to measure exactly how much sunlight exposure is needed. A good guide is at least ½ an hour of unhindered sunlight per day (no sunscreen!) to face, neck, shoulders and arms. In winter this will not be enough and so it is important to combine this with good dietary sources of Vitamin D. Those most at risk of developing Vitamin D deficiencies are dark-skinned people, vegetarians and vegans, veiled women, and breastfed infants of these groups of people.
Breastfeeding mothers should obtain 4000IU per day. In addition to enough sunlight (at least half an hour a day) good dietary sources of Vitamin D are egg yolks, butter from grass-fed cows, cheese, fermented foods, bone broths, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring, and organ meats like liver. Vitamin D is much higher in animal products where the animal is grass-fed as opposed to grain-fed for the very obvious reason that sunlight is needed for the grass to grow!
Vitamin D also raises the need for Vitamins A and K, two other important fat-soluble vitamins for the immune system and nervous system development. If you are concerned about your own or your children’s Vitamin D levels it would be worth your while to go see a trusted medical practitioner or nutritionist.
By Jodie Sirone BHSc(CompMed)
Live Life Natural Therapies firstname.lastname@example.org 02 9602 3377 www.handykidsot.com.au
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