Vitamin D is vitally important for body growth and therefore should be abundant in the diet of children. Common vitamin D deficiency symptoms in children include:
- low blood calcium levels
- tooth decay
- breathing difficulties
- fragile bones (prone to fracture)
- muscle cramps
The two main diseases related to Vitamin D deficiency are rickets and osteomalacia. Rickets causes skeletal deformities in children and osteomalacia in adults causes muscular and bone weakness.
Those most at risk from vitamin D deficiency are infants who are exclusively breastfed, the obese, the elderly and those with limited exposure to the sun. Those with darker skin naturally have more melanin and will produce less vitamin D; age also slows down vitamin D production and therefore, depending on the diet, a supplement should be considered in both these circumstances.
Those with malabsorption syndromes such as cystic fibrosis or Crohn’s disease are also at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
The key function of vitamin D is maintaining normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body. It aids the absorption of calcium to form and maintain strong bones, playing a big part in recovery from injury and exercise.
Vitamin D actually refers to several forms of the vitamin, of which two are important to humans:
- Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), which is synthesized in plants
- Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), synthesized by human skin when exposed to the UVB rays of the sun.
The sun provides us with a natural source of vitamin D and experts believe exposure for as little as 15 minutes a day is enough to avoid deficiency.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D
- Cod liver oil
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna)
- Beef liver
Foods can be fortified with D2 and D3 to supplement the human diet. In colder climates where people experience less exposure to the sun, it is important to eat vitamin D rich foods and, where necessary, take a vitamin D supplement.
The Functions of Vitamin D
- Medical research has revealed that vitamin D plays a significant role in protecting people from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer and several autoimmune diseases.
- Vitamin D regulates normal cellular differentiation, aiding in the prevention of cancerous cell mutation.
- It also assists with insulin secretion which helps prevent weight gain.
- Vitamin D3 plays an important part in brain development and nervous system function, and it is thought that a regular intake of D3 can prevent brain function abnormalities later in life.
Signs of healthy vitamin D levels are strong teeth, strong bones, strong resistance to illness, sustainable body weight and good skin (it prevents psoriasis).