Vitamin D deficiencies in kids

March 4, 2009 3:50:39 PM PST
There is new information on vitamin D and how many children, especially African-Americans, don't get enough.Very recently, the Academy of Pediatrics raised the level of vitamin D needed for normal function of many organs in the body. That meant that blood levels of D previously felt to be normal are now too low. The impact especially affects young blacks.

African-American kids are at higher risk than other teens for several diseases just because of race. But this week's report in the journal "Pediatrics" says they're in even more danger. It says many are deficient in vitamin D, which recent studies show increases the chance of many illnesses. Dr. Sandy Saintonge wrote the report.

"What the data shows is that, in general, one in seven teens is deficient, regardless of race," Dr. Saintonge said. "But in black teens, this number becomes one in two."

That means half of black teens have low D levels. Why? The sun makes vitamin D in the skin normally. But the highly-pigmented skin of blacks limits skin penetration of the sun's rays. Also, many African-Americans are lactose deficient and avoid D-fortified milk products, which can give them stomach problems. Dr. Saintange says her figures are really very conservative.

"Our newer data show that 40 percent of teens are deficient," she said. "In black teens, the number is a surprising 81 percent."

Salmon, tuna and sardines are foods that have a lot of D. So do fortified breads and cereals.

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Good nutrition can make a difference.

That means eating foods rich in vitamin D. For teens who don't like or can't tolerate milk products, Dr. Saintonge points out that supplement pills and multi-vitamins with D can make a real difference. A simple blood test can measure vitamin D at the doctors office.

"If their doctor finds the level is low, they should consider a multi-vitamin," Dr. Saintonge said.

Dr. Saintonge says that up to 2,000 units of vitamin D a day is safe. Many multi-vitamin pills contain 400 units, which is adequate if taken regularly. Though many people know that the vitamin is needed to absorb calcium in patients with weak bones, new research other organs in the body need the vitamin for normal function.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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