Frequent readers to this blog are aware of the growing incidence of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency in all age groups in the US. Now, according to a new study published online in the journal Pediatrics, “most babies should take a daily vitamin D supplement.” USA Today reports that the researchers say, “only 1% to 13% of infants under one year now get a vitamin D supplement, available in inexpensive drops.”
The study said “those drops are needed … because only 5% to 37% of American infants met the standard for vitamin D set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2008: 400 international units (IU) a day.
This matches what I am recommending for my pediatric patients (from infancy, through childhood, and into adolescence): give a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D each day. It’s inexpensive. It’s safe. And, it may well help a child grow up to be more highly healthy.
“CDC researchers analyzed data from a nationwide survey of infant feeding practices conducted between 2005 and 2007 to estimate how many babies were getting enough vitamin D in their diets during their first year of life,” WebMD reported.
The team found that “exclusively breastfed babies got the least vitamin D in their diets, followed by babies who drank both breast milk and formula. Babies who were exclusively formula-fed got the most vitamin D,” but only about a third of those drank enough formula (approximately a liter) to get the amount of vitamin D recommended by the AAP.
HealthDay News reported lead researcher, Cria G. Perrine, from the CDC, “Vitamin D receptors are present in almost every type of cell in the body … lack of vitamin D has been linked to many diseases including cancer, type 1 diabetes and respiratory problems.”
“Most infants, starting at birth, will need a vitamin D supplement,” Perrine said.
To make sure your baby is getting enough vitamin D, Perrine said there are vitamin D drops and liquid multivitamins for infants. “Pretty much all the drops are single doses for 400 IUs,” the researcher noted.
The researchers found that among infants who were exclusively breast-fed, only 5 percent to 13 percent, depending on age, were getting enough vitamin D.
For infants who were breast-fed but also got formula, 28 percent to 35 percent were getting 200 IUs of vitamin D a day, but only 9 percent to 14 percent were getting 400 IUs a day.
For infants fed exclusively with formula, 81 percent to 98 percent were getting 200 IUs a day, but only 20 percent to 37 percent were getting the recommended 400 IUs.
“In the past, it was assumed that children receiving formula didn’t need a vitamin D supplement, because they were getting it from the formula,” Perrine said.
Although they were getting enough formula to meet the 200 IU recommendation, most formula-fed infants won’t get enough vitamin D to meet the 400 IU recommendation, Perrine noted.
In addition, the investigators found that only 1 percent to 13 percent of infants were being given a vitamin D supplement.
“Most infants need a vitamin D supplement, and we are not only talking about only breast-fed children,” Perrine said.
Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist, said that “low levels of vitamin D may not seem like a big deal but we are finding out it is. Research is suggesting that low vitamin D levels are linked to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, as well as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, mood dysregulation, muscle problems, certain cancers and more.”
Heller added: “Sun exposure is one of the best ways to get vitamin D since it is not found in many foods. However, for people living in northern latitudes the sun is not strong enough to generate vitamin D production many months of the year. In addition, we encourage people to use sunscreen to protect against skin cancers, which also minimizes skin’s ability to produce vitamin D.”
Supplements are the next best option, Heller said. “Experts now recommend a minimum of 800 to 1,000 IU per day for adults and children year round.
In July 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants who are exclusively or partially breast-fed receive 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D daily, beginning in the first few days of life,” she said.
“This study suggests that parents are unaware of the need for vitamin D supplementation in infants and other studies show the same for older children. Health professionals need to get the word out to the public that infants, children, adolescents and adults need to get appropriate amounts of vitamin D all year,” she added.