Is your kid short of vitamin D?

Junior needs vitamin D for his bones to grow, develop properly and stay strong. Boost his intake with these suggestions.

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As parents, we take great pains to ensure that our children stay strong and healthy by eating the right foods that will meet their calcium, iron and vitamin A, B, C and E needs.

Vitamin D is dubbed the “sunshine vitamin”, since the body makes it when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. And thanks to our sunny weather, many of us don’t think twice about our vitamin D intake. This important vitamin helps our body absorb calcium from our diet, building strong bones and teeth. Certain foods also contain this essential vitamin.

Many Asians tend to feel confident that their vitamin D intake is well covered and that only people living in temperate climates will have a deficiency of this mineral, especially during winter season, which has little sunlight.

However, bone-health experts at the 1st Asia-Pacific Osteoporosis Meeting in Singapore in 2010 noted that vitamin D deficiency is fast becoming a concern in Asia. Dr Nikhil Tandon, professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences of New Delhi, pointed out that, “A lack of exposure to sunshine, genetic traits and dietary habits are all factors which influence vitamin D levels.”

Other factors that can give rise to a deficiency include air pollution (it blocks the sun), living at higher altitudes and skin pigmentation. Outdoor activity these days is also less as society becomes increasingly urbanised and people are fearful of damaging their skin, and worse, getting skin cancer.

“In toddlers, lack of vitamin D can result in rickets ― bone fractures and deformities — delayed motor development, poor growth and dental deformities.”

The importance of vitamin D

Vitamin D’s primary objective is to help our body absorb calcium better from the foods that we eat, so as to keep our bones strong and physical growth optimal. Vitamin D also functions as a hormone with many other jobs in the body, including regulating the immune system, producing insulin and growing cells. So, if you lack this mineral, it can cause a range of health problems, from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, to osteoporosis in adults.

“In toddlers, lack of vitamin D can result in rickets ― bone fractures and deformities ― delayed motor development, poor growth and dental deformities,” explains Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre at Raffles Hospital. If junior is constantly ill with the common flu, cold or fever, it may be an issue with his vitamin D intake, since a shortage has been linked strongly to a weaker immune system and a higher risk of autoimmune diseases.

A pregnant woman with vitamin D deficiency is at an increased risk of giving birth to a baby with reduced bone mass and skeletal deformities, Chia adds. This baby also has a high chance of developing osteoporosis later in life. A lack of vitamin D is also associated directly with pre-eclampsia ― a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure, fluid retention and kidney damage. By the way, vitamin D is also critical for muscle function, which is important if you want to deliver your baby vaginally. Otherwise, you are at a higher risk of needing an emergency C-section.

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