Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

April 6, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
feature image

It’s common knowledge that we all need vitamins and minerals. They convert food into energy, repair cell damage, and boost the immune system, to name a few benefits. It’s also widely known that the best sources of vitamins include fruits, vegetables, and sunshine. But beyond that basic knowledge, there’s a lot of information about how important they truly are for your overall wellbeing. Specifically, vitamin D is essential for the health of many functions of the body — especially in children.

The Role of Vitamin D in Overall Health

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it is stored in your body’s fatty tissue, cells, and liver until your body needs it — as opposed to water-soluble vitamins, which dissolve in water and are excreted from the body in the urine. The reasons why vitamin D is so important are many:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Helps control infections
  • Prevents muscle cramps and spasms
  • Helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus — two crucial components for bone health

Therefore, vitamin D is essential to ensure bone and muscle health, as well as to keep your immune system as healthy as possible. In fact, vitamin D can help prevent heart disease and the growth of certain cancer cells. And — since children can be more prone to falls and injuries — vitamin D can help bones heal faster.

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally. However, it can be found in fortified cereals, soy milk, fatty fish, portobello mushrooms, and egg yolks. That said, the human body produces vitamin D naturally when exposed regularly to sunlight. If your child spends most of their time indoors, it’s important to provide them with vitamin D fortified foods and/or supplements.

Certain medical conditions may also cause a child to need even more vitamin D — especially in children with cystic fibrosis or celiac disease, or children who have suffered multiple bone fractures. If your child suffers from any of these ailments, talk with their pediatrician about what would be an adequate amount of vitamin D.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

There are several factors that could contribute to a child being deficient in vitamin D. The most common ones include:

  • Vitamin D poor diets
  • Cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease
  • Obesity
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Certain medications
  • Children who don’t spend enough time outdoors (poor mobility)
  • Dark skin — due to higher levels of melanin, which lowers the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight

Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may vary from one child to the next. In fact, some children may not even experience symptoms for a long time. However, for those who do, the most common ones include:

1. Rickets

Rickets refers to the softening of the bones. When a child is suffering from rickets, they experience delayed motor skills, muscle weakness, thickened wrists and ankles, and/or breastbone projection.

2. Getting Sick Often

Vitamin D works within your immune system to fight off infections. Therefore, having a deficiency can lead to repeated bouts of the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, and/or pneumonia.

3. Wounds Take Too Long to Heal

Vitamin D promotes the creation of an antimicrobial peptide known as cathelicidin that assists the body in wound healing. Not creating enough of this peptide also increases the risk of infection in wounds.

4. Bone Pain and Excessive Fractures

Another telltale sign of low vitamin D levels includes bone pain — especially in the lower back and/or legs. It can be intense enough to wake up your child at night. If your child is a baby or an infant, continued vitamin D deficiency could lead to delayed development and/or deformity.

5. Depression

Vitamin D is essential for brain function, and not obtaining enough could lead to issues with mental health — specifically, in the area of the brain associated with depression. And since it’s common for depressed children to want to avoid playing with other children or exercising outside, it’s harder for them to obtain adequate amounts of sunlight.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Vitamin D Deficiency in Children

Vitamin D deficiency is diagnosed through blood tests. Your child will not need to fast or do anything else to prepare for testing. Pediatricians may recommend testing even if your child hasn’t experienced any symptoms if they are at higher risk of having low vitamin D levels.

Once confirmed that a child has a vitamin D deficiency, the pediatrician will recommend eating more foods with the vitamin, spending more time outside, and taking vitamin D supplements. There are different forms of supplements — some are over-the-counter while others need a prescription. Your child’s doctor will let you know which one would benefit your child the most.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a loved one. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.