Children and vitamin D
The Department of Health has asked for a review of the current dietary recommendations on vitamin D
26th January 2012 -The Department of Health has asked experts to review the current dietary recommendations on vitamin D following reports that a quarter of all toddlers in the UK are lacking in it.
So what is it and how much do we need?
Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about vitamin D.
What is it?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient which everyone needs to absorb calcium and phosphorus (important for healthy bones and teeth) from their diet. The re-emergence in the UK of the rare children's bone disease, rickets, is a direct result of vitamin D deficiency.
Even if people have a calcium-rich diet, without enough vitamin D calcium cannot be absorbed into the body.
Vitamin D also regulates cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function and reduction of inflammation.
According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, some evidence suggests that vitamin D may be important in preventing diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis, although it points out further research is needed before any definite conclusions can be drawn.
Where does it come from?
The reason why Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK is because of our weather. Ninety per cent of our intake comes from exposure of the skin to sunlight, which is needed to convert vitamin D to its active form.
The angle of the sun means that in winter it may be impossible for under-fives living in certain areas of the UK to make sufficient vitamin D.
The amount of UVB radiation necessary may also depend on skin colour; people with fair complexions need only approximately one tenth of that required by those with a darker skin.
Experts advise exposing the skin to regular, short periods of sun during the summer months, without sunscreen, which blocks UVB rays. However, it is important to ensure the skin does not burn.
Less than 10% of vitamin D is from our diet.
Small amounts of vitamin D are available in oily fish, fish oils and egg yolk.
All margarines and infant formulas in the UK are fortified with vitamin D and some manufacturers have also fortified foods by adding vitamin D to cereals, milks, spreads, yoghurts and processed cheeses.
Breastfed babies get their vitamin D from their mother’s breast milk, which makes it especially important that breastfeeding women have adequate vitamin D levels of their own.
The Department of Health recommends supplements for pregnant or breastfeeding women and their children from six months to five years old.
Women and children participating in the government's Healthy Start programme can get free supplements containing vitamin D.
You can buy single vitamin D supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Pregnant women who take vitamin D as part of a multivitamin should avoid supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), which can be harmful in pregnancy.
Rickets was common during Victorian times but mostly disappeared in the Western world during the 1940s, thanks to the fortification of vitamin D in everyday foods such as margarine and cereal and the popularity of cod liver oil.