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What’s All the Hype About Vitamin D?

Vitamin DAs a mom, you worry enough about your child –  sleep patterns, nutritional habits, cognitive and social development – and that’s before you even tackle the day’s load of laundry or try to spend quality time with your spouse or baby.  So when the latest, greatest health study or the newest trending dietary topic comes out, it’s hard to know what to follow and why.

Vitamin D is a perfect example – and with the arrival of summer, there’s no better time than now to chat about this “sunshine vitamin.”  With hundreds of studies and just as many articles, Vitamin D has been riding the popularity train for a bit; it’s been touted to reduce the risk of cancer, prevent heart disease and treat high blood pressure.  So, if it really does all that, should we be spending our weekends outside or sprinkling Vitamin D powder on everything we eat?   What’s healthy and what’s hype?  And, as a mom, what does this mean for you and your baby?  So, let’s discuss D.

First of all, what does this vitamin do?  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), D is especially important in developing good, strong bones because it helps the body absorb calcium.  Low amounts of Vitamin D can create soft, thin, brittle bones – known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.  Vitamin D also has secondary benefits like aiding your immune system in fighting off viruses and bacteria.  Vitamin D helps your nerves carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body while muscles need Vitamin D for good movement.  And, though increases in Vitamin D haven’t been directly proven to prevent heart disease or cancer, Vitamin D deficiencies have been indirectly linked with these health concerns.  Vitamin D may not be the nutritional rock star that fights everything that ails you, but it is important to the body and good health.   So how do you get enough?

Once upon a time, people got their Vitamin D from the sun, the most natural and prevalent source.  Basically, your body uses the sun’s UVB, or ultraviolet, rays to make this vitamin and even better, your body can store what it doesn’t need for later.  Technically, the sun’s UV rays activate the pre-vitamin D that is located in the skin. This activation triggers a cascade of events that eventually results into vitamin D that your body can use. However, with our knowledge of skin cancer and sun damage, many people wisely use sunscreens or avoid too much sun exposure.  Likewise, our lifestyles do not require us to be outside as often as people once did; and you’re not going to catch too many rays behind your desk at work.  But while we’re protecting our skin, we’re reducing the amount of Vitamin D our skin can produce.  In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, using a sunscreen with an SPF 8 reduces Vitamin D production by 95%!

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) does not recommend getting vitamin D from sun exposure (natural) or indoor tanning (artificial) because ultraviolet radiation can lead to the development of skin cancer, including melanoma. The AAD supports and encourages individuals to get their Vitamin D from food and vitamin supplements.

This brings us to Plan B which is to get our Vitamin D from food – fatty fishes like salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources.  Mushrooms, milk, egg yolks and cheese also provide small quantities of D.  However, few foods naturally have vitamin D so in the U.S. , many grocery items like milk, yogurt, and orange juice are fortified with Vitamin D to give us the amount that we need.  Additionally, multi-vitamins and Vitamin D supplements are also available.

So, we know what D does; we know how to get it — how much do we need?  According to the NIH, the average adult needs 600 IU (international units); your baby, especially because he is growing so much and developing strong, healthy bones, needs 400 IUs.  But, before you go out and puree some salmon or mackerel for your 8-month old, check with your pediatrician on the best route for your child.  Moms who are breast-feeding or partially breast-feeding their baby may use a liquid supplement.  If you’re using formula, your doctor may recommend a brand that is Vitamin-D fortified.  With toddlers and older children, milk and other foods may give your child what he needs.  Either way, your doctor can steer you in the right direction.

You’re a mom, you’re busy and tired, so let’s bottom line this.  Yes, we do need Vitamin D, but don’t spend every weekend in the sun or move from Seattle to Florida.  Rather, pay attention to the foods you eat as well as multivitamins and you just might find you’re getting what you need.  When in doubt, check with your doctor.  As for your baby, talk with your pediatrician who can make the best recommendations if you need to add or supplement the sunshine vitamin.

Here’s to a happy, healthy summer!

—  The Baby Pibu™ Team

Sources referenced:

  • Goodman, Brenda.  “Are the benefits of Vitamin D overhyped?”  WebMD/CBSNews.com. December 20, 2011.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-the-benefits-of-vitamin-d-overhyped/
  • Hoecker, Jay.  “Does My Baby Need  a Vitamin D Supplement?”  Mayo Clinic.  June 4, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/vitamin-d-for-babies/faq-20058161
  • National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. “Vitamin D:  Fact Sheet for Consumers.”  http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/#h1

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