Vitamin D is important for all ages but has particular importance in children. Here are some of the common questions paediatricians get asked by parents.
Vitamin D is crucial to healthy bones, muscles and teeth. It does this by helping to control the levels of calcium and phosphate in your child’s body. Too little vitamin D in children can lead to a condition called rickets, which causes pain, reduced growth and weak bones. The majority of vitamin D is created by our bodies when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight. This is why people tend to get less vitamin D during the winter months. There is also small amounts of vitamin D in some foods, such as oily fish, red meats and egg yolk. Some food sources have vitamin D added artificially, such as oat and soy milk, infant formula, cereals, margarine and more.
The UK Department of Health and Social Care advises that all children should receive vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth to the age of 4. From birth to 1 year of age children should receive 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, and from 1 to 4 years of age should receive 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. The exception to this is babies fed on infant formula. Formula-fed babies do not need vitamin D supplementation as infant formula already contains enough. You should start vitamin D supplementation once your child is having less than 500ml of infant formula a day. For children over 4 years of age in the UK, it is recommended to take vitamin D supplements daily from the end of September to late March/early April.
Yes. As mentioned above, for all children from birth to 4 years old, expect formula-fed babies, vitamin D supplementation is recommended all year round. In older children above 4 years old, it is recommended in the winter months when there is less sun exposure. If your child is from an ethnic minority with dark skin, such as African, African-Caribbean or South Asian origin then they might not get enough vitamin D through sunlight, even in summer months. Because of this, the recommendation is to consider vitamin D supplementation all year round from birth.
Like many things in life, too much of a good thing can hurt, and this is also true for vitamin D. Taking too much vitamin D over a long period of time can cause increased calcium levels that can weaken bones and damage the kidneys and heart. Infants under 12 months should not take more than 25 micrograms a day, children from 1 to 10 years old should not take more than 50 micrograms a day, and children 11 years and above should not take more than 100 micrograms a day. There are certain conditions that mean that some children cannot take as much safely, so if in doubt you should consult your doctor or pharmacist. You cannot overdose on vitamin D from sunlight exposure, as your body is able to self-regulate this. * Written by Dr Tom Maggs, General Manager at Caidr and Paediatrician