Number of Children Lacking Vitamin D Soars

Children's Sunlight Exposure

Story at-a-glance -

  • The number of children with vitamin D deficiency has increased by more than 200 percent in the last five years
  • Only 7 percent of physicians could identify the months of the year when it is difficult to get enough sunlight exposure to produce adequate vitamin D
  • Your body needs vitamin D at all life stages, including for development in the womb
  • If you’re a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant, now is the time to optimize your vitamin D levels for the sake of your child (and your own health as well)

By Dr. Mercola

In the last five years, the number of children with vitamin D deficiency has increased by more than 200 percent, according to a study commissioned by the UK-based public awareness campaign Vitamin D Mission.1

What’s more, they uncovered that many physicians and parents had a “worrying lack of knowledge” about the importance of vitamin D for children’s health and the widespread prevalence of deficiency.

Your skin produces vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, but during certain months of the year – namely November, December, January, February, and March in the UK and much of the US.

During this time not enough of the sun’s rays reach the earth to produce ample vitamin D in your body (plus, it’d be too cold outside to go sunbathing, even if it was).

Only 7 percent of physicians could identify these months of the year when it is difficult to get enough sunlight exposure to produce adequate vitamin D, and only 4 percent of parents were aware that sunlight during the winter months could not provide vitamin D.

Many Parents and Health Care Practitioners Are Unaware of the Importance of Vitamin for Children

There’s widespread misinformation and lack of awareness when it comes to vitamin D, which is tragic because it’s incredibly important for multiple aspects of health – and it’s one of the easiest vitamin deficiencies to fix.

When surveyed, half of parents with children under 5 said they knew “not much” or “nothing” about the importance of vitamin D for children’s health. Another third said they had not received any information from their physicians about it.

Further, one-third of health-care practitioners and four out of five parents did not know the UK’s Department of Health recommends children under 5 take a daily vitamin D supplement.2 Unfortunately, they recommend just 280 IUs of vitamin D daily for children aged 6 months to 5 years, and 400 IUs daily for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

These levels are likely far too low to bring vitamin D levels into the optimal therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml year-round, and even still it’s estimated that the average British toddler only gets 27 percent of the too-low recommended intake!3 No wonder rates of rickets and other vitamin-D-related conditions are increasing year after year…

Why Is Vitamin D So Crucial for Children’s Health?

Your body needs vitamin D at all life stages, including for development in the womb. In fact, if you’re a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant, now is the time to optimize your vitamin D levels for the sake of your child (and your own health as well). One of the leading vitamin D researchers, Dr. Michael Holick, explained in our interview:

"I usually recommend that vitamin D is critically important from birth until death. Just to give you a couple of examples: during pregnancy, we're now realizing that vitamin D deficiency is a major issue for the developing fetus.

Pre-eclampsia, the most serious complication of pregnancy, is associated with vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is critically important for muscle function, which, of course, is important for birthing action. We showed a 400 percent reduced risk of women requiring a C-section if they simply were vitamin D sufficient at the time they gave birth.

We're now beginning to realize that in-utero vitamin D deficiency is more likely that the young children are going to have asthma and wheezing disorders. We're also now realizing that children who are vitamin D deficient are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis later in life, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease.”

For instance, poor diet and lack of vitamin D during pregnancy were found to be determining factors in whether children suffered from asthma and wheezing by the age of 5.4 In childhood, studies of critically ill children found that vitamin D deficiency is very common in sick children, and is associated with worse outcomes and extended hospital stays.5

Your immune system needs vitamin D to function properly, too, which is why children with adequate vitamin D levels are less likely to catch the flu than children without.6 Vitamin D even plays a role in the health of your teeth, and children with early childhood caries tend to have lower vitamin D levels than children without.7

In fact, this association appears to begin in utero, as mothers of infants with cavities were found to have significantly lower vitamin D levels during pregnancy than mothers with infants who were cavity-free.8 Research shows that 56 percent of black women and 19 percent of white women were vitamin-D deficient during their first trimester of pregnancy, however this used a deficiency definition of <20 ng/ml.9

This is well below the optimal 50-70 ng/ml, as you can see in the table below. So most of those who the study classified as having enough vitamin D were actually deficient as well – giving you an idea of just how widespread vitamin D deficiency actually is.

vitamin d levels
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Inadequate Vitamin D in Adults: Linked to Asthma, Neuromuscular Disease, Thyroid Issues, and More

As an adult, your vitamin D requirements are equally important as children’s. Accumulating research continues to highlight the many different aspects of your health that are affected by too little vitamin D. For instance:

  • Low vitamin D levels may be associated with autoimmune thyroid disease10
  • People with neuromuscular disease are often vitamin D deficient11
  • Adults with asthma who are also vitamin D deficient are at a higher risk of having an asthma attack, and boosting levels may help manage attacks12 (the same has been found to be true in children as well)

From my perspective, however, vitamin D deficiency appears to have the greatest impact on cancer rates. At present, the US cancer mortality rate is equivalent to eight to 10 airplanes crashing each and every single day. Optimizing vitamin D rates across the general population could reduce that by about 50 percent. And it's virtually free—at least if you opt for sun exposure.

As mentioned by Dr. Holick, one of the Nurses' Health Studies showed that nurses who had the highest blood levels of vitamin D, averaging about 50 ng/ml, reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, a Canadian study showed that women who reported having the most sun exposure as a teenager and young adult had almost a 70 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. It's just insane not to take advantage of this prevention strategy…

How to Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

It has become increasingly clear that vitamin D deficiency is absolutely rampant, not just in the UK but also in the US. For example:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 32 percent of children and adults throughout the US were vitamin D deficient
  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50 percent of children aged 1 to 5 years old, and 70 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11, are deficient or insufficient in vitamin D
  • Researchers such as Dr. Holick estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency

I firmly believe that appropriate sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels. I personally have not taken a vitamin D supplement for over five years, yet my levels are in the 70 ng/ml range. If you can't get enough sunshine, then a high-quality tanning bed would be your next best option. What makes for a high-quality tanning bed? Most tanning equipment uses magnetic ballasts to generate light. These magnetic ballasts are well known sources of EMFs that can contribute to cancer. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system.

I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts. Dr. Holick recommends protecting your face when using a tanning bed, and to only go in for half the time recommended for tanning. Make sure the tanning bed you're using is putting out UVB radiation. There are some on the market that only put out UVA, as this is what creates a tan, but you need UVB to produce vitamin D.

If You Opt for a Vitamin D Supplement…

If your circumstances don't allow you to access the sun or a high-quality tanning bed, then you really only have one option if you want to raise your vitamin D, and that is to take a vitamin D supplement (make sure it is vitamin D3, not D2). I recommend regularly testing your levels to make sure you're staying within the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml year-round. The Society Clinical Practice Guidelines Committee recommends the following dosages. Keep in mind that these guidelines are thought to allow most people to reach a vitamin D level of 30 ng/ml, which many still consider suboptimal for disease prevention.

  • Neonates: 400 to 1,000 IUs per day
  • Children one year of age and above: 600 to 1,000 IUs per day
  • Adults: 1,500 to 2,000 IUs per day

GrassrootsHealth offers a helpful chart showing the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. Many experts agree that 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight could be used as an estimate for your ideal dose, but you’ll need to test your levels to find out the dosage that’s right for you.

Vitamin K2 and Magnesium Are Important Alongside Vitamin D

Nutrients do not exist in a bubble… they often require the synergistic actions of supportive nutrients to function properly within your body, and this is very true of vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, and also calcium. These four nutrients perform an intricate dance together, with one supporting the other. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, and why some people experience vitamin D toxicity.

Part of the explanation for these adverse side effects is that vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place. If you're K2 deficient, added calcium can cause more problems than it solves, by accumulating in the wrong places. Similarly, if you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2 and more magnesium. Taking mega doses of vitamin D supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 and magnesium can lead to vitamin D toxicity and magnesium deficiency symptoms, which include inappropriate calcification.

Magnesium and vitamin K2 complement each other, as magnesium helps lower blood pressure, which is an important component of heart disease. So, all in all, anytime you're taking any of the following: magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, or vitamin K2, you need to take all the others into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with one another. Please don’t simply assume that you’re getting enough, either, as an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium.

The health consequences of deficiency can be quite significant, as magnesium performs a wide array of biological functions, including activating muscles and nerves and creating energy in your body. So, ideally, strive to get the vitamin D your body needs naturally, via healthy sun exposure, but if you opt to take a supplement be sure to find out how to optimize your vitamin K2, magnesium, and calcium levels along with it.