Children need vitamin D for many things, said Dr. Barbara Minkowitz, a board-certified pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Atlantic Health System who emphasizes bone health and is an expert on vitamin D and its association to pediatric fractures.
“It is both an essential vitamin and hormone that works with calcium and other vitamins to make bone,” she said. If your child plays sports, vitamin D plays an important role, as it helps optimize muscle function and increases stamina. Vitamin D helps prevent fatigue that is associated with vitamin D deficiency. It also helps children heal their injuries and helps to prevent injuries.
“Vitamin D is found in fish, liver, eggs and mushrooms,” said Dr. Minkowitz. But the majority of people are not eating enough of these daily to fulfill their vitamin D needs, she said, and fortified foods do not 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 degrees latitude to get enough sun,” she said. “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.” In New Jersey, you will not attain healthy vitamin D levels through sunshine. Additionally, not everyone makes vitamin D well with the sun.
“COVID-19 has forced many children to spend lot of time by themselves indoors and on the computer,” said Dr. 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 said. “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.
“Taking vitamin D supplements is the easy way to address this problem,” said Dr. Minkowitz.
The half-life of vitamin D in the body is two to three weeks. If you stop taking it, in two to three 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 said. Taking Vitamin D supplements is something you do for your body daily, like brushing your teeth. 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 pounds as small adult size and recommend 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. It is very difficult to reach toxic levels of vitamin D unless you take extremely high amounts, daily, like 50,000 units per day.”
Treating a vitamin D-deficient child with supplements will generally make them feel better, “You will see injuries heal faster, fewer injuries occurring, enhanced athletic ability” and even better moods, she said. Be sure to consult your pediatrician to see if your child is getting enough of this essential vitamin.