A Mom's Guide To Avoiding Vitamin D Deficiency
The sunshine vitamin D may be a lot more important for our long term health than we have been aware of. More and more research indicates links between vitamin D deficiency and not only rickets, as seen in the picture to the left, but also other severe illnesses, such as cancer, depression, diabetes and many more.
At the same time, it is estimated that as many as 58% of all newborn babies may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency and 35% of all new mothers.
Scary stuff! Here we'll try to explain what is going on and what a mom can do to make sure she is avoiding vitamin D deficiency for herself and her baby.
Avoiding Vitamin D Deficiency In Baby And Mom
Why Is Vitamin D Important?If you're pregnant, you may have been prescribed antenatal multivitamins containing, amongst other things, Vitamin D, and if you're a Mom to young children, perhaps you've heard your Health Visitor or Doctor talking about Vitamin D supplement drops for babies, or even for you if you're breastfeeding. Vitamin D, which regulates the calcium levels in our bodies, is absolutely essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones.
Have you ever heard of rickets? Yes, that's right, the same condition that caused many children to develop bowed legs and brittle bones back during the Industrial Revolution, but has been practically unheard of, at least in developed countries, since the early 20th Century. Well, it's back with a vengeance, with researchers at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina reporting that cases of the disease tripled in 2000 from previous years - directly linked to Vitamin D deficiency.
In recent years, increasing amounts of research has been carried out on the effects of Vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women, nursing mothers, young babies and children and the findings are astounding; in addition to significantly increasing the risk factor for rickets, children who do not receive adequate Vitamin D in the womb or during the early years of life when breast milk is often the primary food source are thought to be more susceptible in later life to multiple sclerosis, depression, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and schizophrenia.
How Much Vitamin D Should Moms & Babies Be Getting?Given the latest research findings, it may come as a surprise that there is currently no officially recognized recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D for healthy adults and children as normal lifestyles should provide adequate intake.
However, the National Institutes of Health provide guidelines stating that intake should be between 400 International Units (IU), or 10 micrograms, and 800 IU, or 20 micrograms, with babies under 12 months receiving the lowest recommended level of 400 IU, and adults and children aged over 12 months taking in 600 IU daily. However, these guidelines have also set this same 600 IU allowance for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Is that right? With an estimated 58% of all newborns showing signs of Vitamin D deficiency, and around 35% of new mothers, surely that indicates the recommended guidelines should be much higher during pregnancy and the lactation period?
Research has, quite rightly, questioned these guidelines and researchers are now finding that up to 4000 IU of Vitamin D may be required by pregnant or breastfeeding women each day in order to maintain adequate levels for both Mom and baby. To date, studies have found that this amount is safe for pregnant women, but before we all rush out for 4000 IU supplements, scientists seem to agree that much more research needs to be done into Vitamin D effects in this quantity.
What we can conclude from this information, however, is that while we're looking after both our health and the health of our little ones, we do need to do all we can to up our Vitamin D intake above what we absorb naturally through our regular diet and sun exposure.
Easy Ways To Avoid Vitamin D DeficiencyFortunately, Vitamin D itself is very easy to treat and many effects of deficiency, especially those related to soft or brittle bones, can be reversed simply by upping our daily intake. There are a number of quick and easy changes we can make to our everyday lifestyle that can have significant effects on Vitamin D levels.
Here are the the best ways to make sure you are avoiding vitamin D deficiency:
SunlightOne of the most effective methods of increasing Vitamin D levels is by getting out and enjoying some sun, and sunlight is essential for providing about 90% of our recommended levels. However, we all know that direct and prolonged sunlight exposure can be dangerous, leading to burns, skin disorders and even cancer. So how do we find the right balance?
If you're a Mom to little ones, I'm sure, like the rest of the population, you're reluctant to take them outside in the summer without coating them in sun cream, covering exposed skin and keeping them in the shade. And while this is very sensible, children do actually need a little bit of sunlight. A reason for the rickets comeback is that we are much more aware of sun protection today than we were 100 or so years ago, and while the thought of sending your child off into the summer sun without UV protection can be truly terrifying, researchers do suggest that little ones should have their faces exposed for around 2 hours per week, or 30 minutes if the legs and arms are also subjected to the rays.
Many studies, such as one published in a 2006 edition of Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, have found 'convincing evidence that the protective effect of less intense solar UV radiation outweighs its mutagenic effects'. This is something many Moms are not aware of, but it's important to know when making a decision on how to increase Vitamin D levels in both yourself and your child.
In addition, researchers and journalists in developed countries are blaming the younger generation's obsession with computer games and television, activities which take place indoors, for the recent increase in cases of rickets.
DietSurprisingly few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, so in the 1940's manufacturers of certain food products, such as margarine, started to fortify their foods with the added vitamin. This gives us a lot more choice when it comes to upping our levels through diet.
Oily fish are a fantastic source of Vitamin D, with swordfish, salmon and tuna being among the most vitamin dense. Do you see a problem here? Quite ironically, both salmon and tuna need to be eaten sparingly during pregnancy, and swordfish is to be avoided completely due to high levels of mercury which could be dangerous for the baby. The same is true when breastfeeding, so pregnant women and nursing mothers should look for alternative options such as cheeses, eggs and fortified cereals and dairy products, although these are nowhere near as beneficial.
Don't forget, if you're exclusively breastfeeding, all the essential vitamins and nutrients your baby needs to grow come from you alone, so if you've chosen this method of feeding then it's vital you keep your Vitamin D levels topped up.
SupplementsThe Department of Health recommends that pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under 5 years of age should take 400 IU supplements of Vitamin D daily. Many pharmacies sell these supplements in the form of drops which make them easier to administer to babies. While it seems like this quantity may be adequate for children (although some breastfeeding advocates may be reluctant to, or completely against, giving synthetic substances to their babies before the weaning process has begun), does it really seem like enough for adults? As we discussed earlier, research has shown that pregnant and lactating women may need as much as 4000 IU daily, making the 400 IU supplements appear somewhat insufficient. Therefore, supplements may be more beneficial if taken alongside the other methods listed above.
Clearly, supplementing breastfed babies and nursing mothers is beneficial, but with baby milk formula being fortified with Vitamin D, does this mean that formula fed babies aren't at risk of deficiency? A number of years back, it was thought that formula fed babies got all they needed from the milk powder, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case. In fact, it is estimated that about 43% of all formula fed babies are showing signs of Vitamin D deficiency, mainly because diet and supplements can only play so big a role; exposure to the sun remains an essential part of the equation.
Do you find all this confusing? You are not alone! Since even the health departments seem confused by all the new research right now, no wonder we as parents are. But supplements or not - heading outside with our kids as much as possible and making sure they are exposed to a lot of daylight without being burnt by the sun surely will take us a long way in avoiding vitamin D deficiency. Stroller walks with the hood down, playing outside and just being outside will help. AND it make the children sleep better too. Add to that some high quality vitamin D drops and we are likely to be at least a lot better off than sitting inside all day long.
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