Barbara Minkowitz, MD is a board-certified pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Atlantic Health System who emphasizes bone health in her practice. An expert on vitamin D and its association to pediatric fractures, she is telling us everything we need to know to make sure our kids are healthy and protected.
Children need vitamin D for many things, says Minkowitz. “It is both an essential vitamin and hormone that works with calcium and other vitamins to make bone.” If your child plays sports, vitamin D plays an important role, as it helps optimize muscle function and increases stamina. “I have had patients that reported they can literally swim more laps in the pool after taking vitamin D,” she says. Vitamin D helps prevent fatigue that is associated with vitamin D deficiency. It also helps children heal their injuries and helps to prevent injuries.
“Children with chronic bone or joint pain are typically low on vitamin D and have a chance to get better with supplementation,” says Minkowitz. “Vitamin D is critical for immune function as it protects against illness and decreases severity of illness. Minkowitz says that this is extremely important in terms of maintaining kids’ optimal health during the pandemic.”
What are some natural sources of Vitamin D?
“Vitamin D is found in fish, liver, eggs and mushrooms,” says Minkowitz. But the majority of people are not eating enough of these daily to fulfill their vitamin D needs, she says, and fortified foods don’t contain enough vitamin D to raise levels. “The sun can stimulate your body to make vitamin D, but you must live in area below 30° latitude to get enough sun,” she says. (For example, New Orleans is 29°.) “If you are living in an area with enough sun exposure, you then must be outside (not in the air conditioning) long enough each week, without sunscreen and with enough skin exposed, to make sufficient vitamin D,” she says. So, if you are living in New Jersey, you will not attain healthy vitamin D levels through sunshine. Additionally, not everyone makes vitamin D well with the sun.
How has COVID affected kids’ levels of D?
“COVID-19 has forced many children to spend lot of time by themselves indoors and on the computer,” says Minkowitz. “Kids are not chasing each other around and playing as much, and they are getting less weight-bearing activity.” Weight bearing activity promotes stronger bone quality, says Minkowitz. With kids hunched over their computers much of the day, they are developing poor posture which contracts the muscles. “Children become stuck in this position, with their shoulders caving in and their necks forward like turtles,” she says. “Lack of sunshine, vitamin D supplements, reduced activity and poor posture is causing children to build bodies with weaker bones.” All this adds up to an increase in musculoskeletal injury among kids, especially now with the return to sports.
Is taking a supplement safe? Is it as good as getting D from food sources?
“Taking vitamin D supplements is the easy way to address this problem,” says Minkowitz. “It is safe and it is just as good as obtaining it from food sources.” Minkowitz says it’s important to know two things about vitamin D supplementation: First, the half-life of vitamin D in the body is 2 to 3 weeks. If you stop taking it, in 2-3 weeks only half of the vitamin D you have in your body remains. “We cannot stop taking maintenance Vitamin D if we want to maintain healthy levels and feel our best,” she says. Taking Vitamin D supplements is something you do for your body daily, like brushing your teeth. Second, Vitamin D is distributed throughout the body. So, the bigger the child, the more Vitamin D that child will need. “I consider children at 90 lbs. as small adult size and recommend 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily,” she says. “It is very difficult to reach toxic levels of vitamin D unless you take extremely high amounts on a daily basis (for example, 50,000 units per day).”
What improvements can you expect after increasing vitamin D if the child is deficient?
Minkowitz says that treating a vitamin D-deficient child with supplements will generally make them feel better. “They will have more energy, less pain and boosted mood,” she says. Sometimes depressive symptoms are associated with vitamin D deficiency, says the doctor. “You will see injuries heal faster, less injuries occurring and enhanced athletic ability. It is interesting to note that professional athletes are careful to keep their vitamin D levels up.”
Be sure to consult your pediatrician to see if your child is getting enough of this essential vitamin!