You probably know that your milk is fortified with vitamin D, but you might not have thought twice about why — or even cared, for that matter. But the often-forgotten vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. That means that without enough vitamin D, the body can't take up and use calcium as it should to maintain healthy, strong bones and teeth.
And it's not just kids who need it — a new study shows that pregnant women require the nutrient to help their offspring avoid early childhood cavities. According to a group of Canadian researchers studying more than 200 expectant moms in their second trimester, the women who didn't get enough of this important nutrient during pregnancy were much more likely to have young kids with cavities. And only 10% of the women were getting adequate vitamin D.
Made by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D also is found in fortified foods, fish, and egg yolks.
What This Means to You
Vitamin D is a must-have nutrient for everyone, especially kids, whose bones and teeth need it to stay healthy.
A lack of vitamin D or calcium in the diet can also lead to the bone growth problem rickets, although it's much less common today than in the past. Rickets causes severe bowing of the legs, poor growth, and sometimes muscle pain and weakness. Although rickets and the resulting bowlegs are almost always corrected by adding vitamin D and calcium to the diet, some types of rickets are due to genetic conditions that may require more specialized treatment.
Whether you're expecting or already raising little ones, here are some ways to make sure everyone in your home gets enough vitamin D:
- Incorporate vitamin-D-rich foods into your diet — eggs and fortified foods like dairy products, cow's milk, soy milk, rice milk, cereals, and bread. Look for the vitamin D content on the nutrition label.
- Ask your doctor how much fish is OK if you're pregnant or have young kids. Although fish boasts vitamin D, some kinds may contain too much mercury — like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steak, and canned albacore tuna. It's wise to eat no more than a serving or two a week of lower-mercury seafood options (like catfish, pollock, salmon, shrimp, clams, and tilapia).
- Get the kids outside as much as possible to help their bodies produce vitamin D from sun exposure. Just make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both UVA and UVB rays) to their skin, even on cloudy days. But keep young babies out of the sun — direct sunlight is not safe or recommended for infants under 6 months.
- Take those vitamins every day! Make sure to take your prenatal vitamins if you're pregnant. Also ask about daily vitamin D drops for your breastfed baby — something the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends for all breastfed infants by the time they're 2 months old. That's because, although it is definitely the ideal form of nourishment for babies, breast milk doesn't have high enough concentrations of vitamin D. For older tots, talk to your doctor about whether your child should take a daily vitamin supplement and, if so, what kind.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Source: "Influence of Maternal Vitamin D Status on Infant Oral Health;" presented at the 86th General Session of the International Association for Dental Research; Toronto, ON, Canada; July 4, 2008.