Seven out of ten kids have low vitamin D levels

Monday, August 3, 2009 16:15
Comments Off on Seven out of ten kids have low vitamin D levels

A new report reveals that 70 million American kids (ranging in age from toddlers to teens) are at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and bone problems due to deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D.  Low vitamin D levels are about 6 times more common in young black Americans because darker skin produces less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. See also this story in the Washington Post.)

This storm has been gathering for quite some time.  Vitamin D levels in adults are also low and vitamin D deficiency is being linked to an increasing number of serious, chronic conditions and auto-immune diseases. (See also my post "Vitamin D. Now I'm a believer").

Everyone seems to agree on what's causing the problem. We spend less time outdoors, we've been drilled by dermatologists (and cosmetic companies) on the use of sunscreen to protect our skin against skin cancer and premature aging. We (and our kids) get a lot less vitamin D from our diet, chiefly because we drink less milk and more soda than we used to.

(Milk does not contain vitamin D naturally, of course. It's fortified with vitamin D. Fish are the best natural sources of vitamin D.)

It's harder to agree on the solution.  Some argue that high dose vitamin D supplements are the answer. It's a logical leap, but it's still a leap. While we have evidence linking low vitamin D levels to many diseases, there's less evidence to prove that taking vitamin D supplements reduces those risks.  (Correlation does not equal causation.)

It also takes a heck of a lot of vitamin D supplementation to correct a vitamin D deficiency. While the current RDA for vitamin D is 400IU, it can take 10,000 to 50,000IU a day to replenish depleted vitamin D stores in the body. High doses of vitamin D have been found to be safe and well-tolerated. Nonetheless, many experts are wary of this kind of super-high-dose supplementation without medical oversight.

Exposing the unprotected skin to sunlight is a much more efficient way to raise vitamin D levels in the body, but it proves very difficult to make recommendations about how much sunlight a given person needs. It depends on how much skin is exposed, your latitude, your altitude, the time of day, the time of year, atmospheric conditions, and your skin color. (Yikes!).  Plus, you have to weigh the benefits of vitamin D production against the risk of skin cancer and/or sun damage.

Here, for example, are two very different points of view:

UV Advantage,org

SunProtection.net

For what it's worth, here's how I'm balancing the two, pending further findings. 

1. Because my face, neck, and chest have received an awful lot of sun over the years, I always apply sunscreen there to prevent further damage.

2. In the summer, If I'm going to be outside for any length of time between 10AM or 4PM in the summer, I put sunscreen on all exposed skin. Before and after those hours or during the winter, I don't put sunscreen on except if I'm going to be out for a long time.

3. I keep track of and have my doctor check any suspcious moles.

4. I take 1,000IU of vitamin D every day.

If you have children, you might want to ask your pediatrician about it at your next appointment. I'd probably ask whether he/she thinks it would be worthwhile to test your child's vitamin D levels and about guidelines for appropriate sun exposure and/or supplementation.

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Seven out of ten kids have low vitamin D levels

Monday, August 3, 2009 16:15
Comments Off on Seven out of ten kids have low vitamin D levels

A new report reveals that 70 million American kids (ranging in age from toddlers to teens) are at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and bone problems due to deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D.  Low vitamin D levels are about 6 times more common in young black Americans because darker skin produces less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. See also this story in the Washington Post.)

This storm has been gathering for quite some time.  Vitamin D levels in adults are also low and vitamin D deficiency is being linked to an increasing number of serious, chronic conditions and auto-immune diseases. (See also my post "Vitamin D. Now I'm a believer").

Everyone seems to agree on what's causing the problem. We spend less time outdoors, we've been drilled by dermatologists (and cosmetic companies) on the use of sunscreen to protect our skin against skin cancer and premature aging. We (and our kids) get a lot less vitamin D from our diet, chiefly because we drink less milk and more soda than we used to.

(Milk does not contain vitamin D naturally, of course. It's fortified with vitamin D. Fish are the best natural sources of vitamin D.)

It's harder to agree on the solution.  Some argue that high dose vitamin D supplements are the answer. It's a logical leap, but it's still a leap. While we have evidence linking low vitamin D levels to many diseases, there's less evidence to prove that taking vitamin D supplements reduces those risks.  (Correlation does not equal causation.)

It also takes a heck of a lot of vitamin D supplementation to correct a vitamin D deficiency. While the current RDA for vitamin D is 400IU, it can take 10,000 to 50,000IU a day to replenish depleted vitamin D stores in the body. High doses of vitamin D have been found to be safe and well-tolerated. Nonetheless, many experts are wary of this kind of super-high-dose supplementation without medical oversight.

Exposing the unprotected skin to sunlight is a much more efficient way to raise vitamin D levels in the body, but it proves very difficult to make recommendations about how much sunlight a given person needs. It depends on how much skin is exposed, your latitude, your altitude, the time of day, the time of year, atmospheric conditions, and your skin color. (Yikes!).  Plus, you have to weigh the benefits of vitamin D production against the risk of skin cancer and/or sun damage.

Here, for example, are two very different points of view:

UV Advantage,org

SunProtection.net

For what it's worth, here's how I'm balancing the two, pending further findings. 

1. Because my face, neck, and chest have received an awful lot of sun over the years, I always apply sunscreen there to prevent further damage.

2. In the summer, If I'm going to be outside for any length of time between 10AM or 4PM in the summer, I put sunscreen on all exposed skin. Before and after those hours or during the winter, I don't put sunscreen on except if I'm going to be out for a long time.

3. I keep track of and have my doctor check any suspcious moles.

4. I take 1,000IU of vitamin D every day.

If you have children, you might want to ask your pediatrician about it at your next appointment. I'd probably ask whether he/she thinks it would be worthwhile to test your child's vitamin D levels and about guidelines for appropriate sun exposure and/or supplementation.

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