Everybody—and every body—needs vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital for bone growth and repair and many other bodily functions. A deficiency can cause a number of health issues including weak bones and muscles and, in severe situations, rickets. Unfortunately, especially during adolescence—which also happen to be peak bone building time—vitamin D deficiency is common.
One reason for the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is because very few foods in nature contain it. Fish liver oils and fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel are the best sources, and small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver and egg yolks. Fortified milk, juice and some cereals are other good sources of the vitamin. However, it is important to note (1) that many dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream are not fortified; and (2) at least one study found that 15% of milk samples from the U.S. and Canada had no vitamin D and more than half had less than 80% of the vitamin D content stated on the label.
The other way to get vitamin D into your system is through exposure to the sun. With the number of teens we see playing on fields at Staples, Ludlowe and other area high schools, one might assume that our local adolescents are getting plenty of vitamin D through the sun. However, one study found that even in the Southeast, where the climate is typically sunny year-round, low vitamin D status is prevalent in adolescents. Here in New England we don’t have a year-round sunny climate, and this makes vitamin D deficiency even more likely. (Another study found that on cloudless days in Boston, sunlight did not initiate production of vitamin D through the skin from November to February.)
Dr. Catherine M. Gordon addressed this issue at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine:
Vitamin D supplementation needs to be considered in all adolescents, especially during winter months, in higher latitudes, and when good sunscreen habits are enforced. We get Vitamin D either from the sun or from supplements or food. A sunscreen of SPF8 or above reduces vitamin D production by about 97.5%, and most children use a much higher SPF.
And while the AAP recommends 400 IU for children, Dr. Gordon believes that adolescents are more similar to adults and that a dose closer to the adult recommended dose, 1,000 IU, would be more appropriate.
At Willows Pediatrics we are aware of these studies and are happy to advise you with regard to your particular adolescent. One thing we do recommend is that our adolescent patients eat breakfast every day. Breakfast is the one meal of the day where vitamin D-fortified foods are typically served. Incorporating bone-building calcium and vitamin D foods into breakfast can be a huge step towards satisfying your teen’s vitamin D needs. Visit the NIH’s website for more information on vitamin D and its sources.
We hope our Fairfield County adolescents will take care to meet their vitamin D needs, and we look forward to seeing them—with their healthy bones and bodies—in our office soon!