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Many women and children across Asia either have a vitamin D or calcium insufficiency or deficiency. Campaigns against vitamin D deficiency have gained prominence in the western world but the dietary issue is just as relevant in Asia. In children, severe vitamin D deficiency results in inadequate mineralisation of bone, leading to growth retardation and bone deformities known as rickets.
Rickets is a condition that affects the development of bones in children that is now becoming an important issue of young children across China. Rickets causes soft weak bones, which can become bowed or curved. It’s a condition that only develops in children. It’s most commonly diagnosed in children between the age of 3 and 18 months and occurs in all regions in China, but more prevalent in the north. Recent research showed that in Beijing vitamin D deficiency and calcium insufficiency occurred in more than 40% of adolescent girls in winter resulting in low bone mineral density.
The main signs and symptoms of rickets include a misshaped or deformed skeleton, pain, fragile bones and poor growth and development. The most common cause of rickets is an extreme lack of vitamin D or a lack of calcium, or both together. However, this can be totally prevented by making sure your child gets enough vitamin D and calcium.
Vitamin D helps your body to control calcium and phosphate levels. When you get very little vitamin D, your body may not absorb enough calcium. Your body produces hormones that cause calcium and phosphate to be released from the bones; hormones that vitamin D usually keeps under control. This makes your bones soft and weak and rickets develops.
Research now shows that getting enough vitamin D during pregnancy is important for the health of your baby. If you’re pregnant you should consider taking a vitamin D supplement, particularly if you have darker skin or get little sunshine on your skin.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby, either fully or in part, you may need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement every day. If you’re getting enough vitamin D, your baby should be getting enough vitamin D from your milk. However, many women don’t get enough vitamin D and if that is the case, you will need to give your baby a supplement. If you’re giving your baby only infant formula, which contains vitamin D, you may not need to give a supplement.
Older children and adolescents also need enough vitamin D to keep their bones healthy and prevent rickets. If your child isn’t able to get vitamin D from being out in the sun, you should give him or her vitamin D supplements.
Adequate vitamin D must be important, but excess is harmful. Monitor your child’s health and development. If you think your baby may lack vitamin D, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.