Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is required for many functions within the body including healthy bones, immunity, and cardiovascular function. It is essential throughout all stages of life, from foetal development to old age. More importantly, for infants, vitamin D is needed to prevent a bone-deforming condition called Rickets.
Rickets leads to softening and weakening of bones in children. It is associated with pain, increased risk of fractures, dental defects, skeletal deformities such as bowed legs, growth restriction, developmental delays, and seizures.
A recent study linking Rickets to a deficiency of vitamin D has been released by researchers at Otago University’s New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit. Paediatricians nationwide were asked to report any vitamin D deficient rickets over a three year period.
Results from the 58 children that were studied identified several key risk factors and revealed that Rickets is still an issue in New Zealand. This is despite a 2013 study done by the University of Auckland that showed 1 in 5 New Zealand infants had a vitamin D level at birth that was low enough to put them at risk of Rickets.
Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, as our bodies can convert sunlight into vitamin D through a process that starts in our skin. Unfortunately, many people do not get enough sunlight exposure due to many factors or they have problems with the conversion process in the body, which is where supplementation with a quality vitamin D product can be very beneficial.
Children most at risk of having low vitamin D levels are breast-fed infants of Maori or Pacific Island women, of women with dark skin, or of women whom are often covered or veiled when outdoors.
The mother’s vitamin D level during pregnancy determines the vitamin D status of her newborn baby and remains an important determinant of vitamin D status while the infant remains exclusively breast-fed. Adequate levels of vitamin D will only be passed to an infant via breast milk if the mother has a high level of vitamin D herself. If her levels are low, then very little, if any vitamin D will be passed, which is why it is recommended that breast-fed or partially breast-fed infants are given vitamin D supplementation. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends babies have 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D daily.