Not only the children in underdeveloped countries but also the children in developed countries are being diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. Doctors and researchers are worried about the growing number of infants and toddlers with low vitamin D levels. If not checked at an earlier stage, severe deficiency of vitamin D in children can lead to irreversible renal damage and softening of bones.
Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency in Children
Vitamin D being a fat soluble vitamin, is stored in the body for future use. D2 and D3 are the two important forms of this vitamin which can be obtained through consumption of plant-based and animal based foods respectively. The most important source of vitamin D is 'sunlight'. So this vitamin is also known as 'sunshine vitamin'. Human body itself cannot produce this vitamin. Milk, eggs, fish, fortified juices and cereals, animal meat, shiitake mushrooms, etc., contain a good amount of this vitamin. Lack of adequate vitamin D in the diet and lack of exposure to sunlight are the main causes of scarcity of this vitamin. African-American children are more likely to have low levels of vitamin D, especially in winters. Studies show that infants who are exclusively breastfed are more likely to suffer from the effects of low vitamin D. If the vitamin is not properly absorbed in the intestines, then the child may develop vitamin deficiency. Mal-absorption as well as liver and kidney diseases can affect the levels of this vitamin. Even the use of certain medicines can be the cause of depleted vitamin D levels.
Symptoms of Low Vitamin D in Children
A simple blood test helps measure vitamin D levels in blood. This vitamin promotes absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines. So, low vitamin D levels in children lead to calcium and phosphorus deficiency. In such a situation, the body starts extracting these elements from bones, resulting in low bone density or soft bones. The vitamin helps strengthen the skeleton of the body and the immune system as well. Severe deficiency results in rickets in children. Pain in bones, low energy level, deformities in dental as well as skeletal structure and weak muscles are the main symptoms of rickets. If the symptoms are neglected at earlier stage, the child may suffer from frequent convulsions and painful cramps, especially in legs. He/she may experience twitching of muscles and tingling sensation in the extremities.
Infants who lack vitamin D may have darkened skin, deformed skulls, difficulty in sitting, walking or crawling, etc. Increased irritation and sleeplessness can be noticed in such infants. Symptoms like enlarged rib-breastbone joint and deformed chest can also be seen in these infants.
Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency
Deficiency of vitamin D can lead to development of several health complications like weak muscles, impaired function of the immune system, rickets, obesity, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis. The deficiency also increases the risk of developing cancer and type 1 diabetes. Children with asthma or anemia may have to suffer from worsened symptoms. The deficiency can affect the heart health and immune system seriously.
An exposure to sunlight for about 30 minutes a day is required to correct the deficiency. Sometimes, low vitamin D levels are noticed when blood of a healthy child is examined for some other purpose. When detected at an earlier stage, the level of vitamin D can be raised with the help of healthy diet and sufficient exposure to sun. Although breast milk is the best milk for a baby, studies show that exclusively breastfed babies fail to attain normal vitamin D levels. So, doctors recommend fortified formulas for babies.
Pediatricians usually prescribe vitamin D supplements for babies and children as supplementation helps correct the deficiency. Health complications due to low vitamin D levels in children can be easily prevented with the help of healthy diet and sufficient exposure to the sun. While giving supplements to the children, parents should follow the instructions of the doctor religiously, otherwise vitamin D overdose can give rise to a new set of health complications.