Researchers recently reviewed medical data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2004 for 6000 children and young adults ages 1 to 21. Low levels of vitamin D were found in about 70% of children.
Vitamin D deficiency, typical of very low levels that cause rickets and severe bone degeneration and weakness problems were found it about 9% of children. Insufficient levels of vitamin D were found in another 61%. These levels are associated with a wide variety of health problems including type 1 and 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, autism, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, cancer and many other health problems.
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Possible Tie Between Low Vitamin D and Flu Risk
Low vitamin D levels are also suspected to be tied to seasonal flu peaks as they correspond with lower sunlight levels that also reduce natural vitamin D generation in human skin. You and your children may be at significantly elevated risk of catching flu, including H1N1 flu (aka swine flu), if you suffer from low vitamin D levels.
While there isn’t a conclusively proven link between vitamin D and risk from flu infection yet, the evidence is strong and more research is being done now in hopes of helping to head off a deadly H1N1 flu pandemic
Although not much is known about the ability of vitamin D to mitigate the effects of the swine flu, the agency is citing one tantalizing piece of research suggesting the approach is more than a long shot and actually holds promise in combatting the new pandemic.
In the 1940s, researchers experimenting with mice found that those receiving diets low in vitamin D were more susceptible to an experimental swine-flu infection than those that received adequate amounts of the nutrient, according to the e-mail from the agency.
The reason vitamin D might be able to fight the flu isn’t known, but the prevailing hypothesis is that the nutrient is able to strengthen the immune system, allowing those infected to better fight off their illness. Vitamin D has been found, for instance, to offer some protection against tuberculosis.
“The evidence is almost overwhelming that vitamin D appears to be making the immune system attack foreign entities better,” said Reinhold Vieth, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.
He said the agency’s research on H1N1 severity and vitamin D levels “bodes really well” for figuring out whether the nutrient can be used to help combat the virus.
Pregnant Women At Higher Risk for BV Infection Due To Vitamin D Deficiency
The risks of vitamin D deficiency to children start before they are even born. Besides leading to rickets, low vitamin D also appears to lead to higher rates of premature birth and low birth weight.
Recently, a study showing that pregnant women with vitamin D levels of less than 20 nmol/L (equivalent to 8 ng/mL) were 65% more likely to have bacterial vaginosis (BV) infections than those with vitamin D levels of 75 nmol/L (equivalent to 30 ng/mL) or higher. These BV infections raise the risk for premature birth and low birth weight for babies. This correlation was very notable for African-American women, but not obvious for Caucasian women.
BV is associated with an imbalance in the normal vaginal flora, causing a foul-smelling discharge and sometimes burning or itching. Even when no symptoms are present, BV can lead to serious pelvic infections and increase the chance of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnant women have the added risk of danger to their unborn baby, as BV infection can cause premature birth or low birth weight.
Vitamin D has been making the headlines for the past several years, as new evidence of its immune-modulating effects are uncovered. The “sunshine vitamin” may have a role in many chronic diseases; higher levels seem to protect against heart disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, infections, and many cancers.
Upon exposure of the skin to sunlight, vitamin D is converted to its active form in the body. Darker skinned people aren’t able to make as much vitamin D, predisposing them to lower levels.
In the first study of its kind to investigate the relationship between vitamin D status and BV infection in pregnancy, 469 pregnant women were evaluated. About 41% of the women had BV. Women with the lowest vitamin D levels (less than 20 nmol/L) were 65% more likely to have BV than were those with levels of 75 nmol/L. As vitamin D status decreased in black women, their likelihood of having BV increased. This trend wasn’t seen in white women.
Keep in mind that even the 75 nmol/L (30 ng/mL) level of vitamin D is considered low by current research. A level of 20 nmol/L (8 ng/mL) is catastrophically low and dangerously prone to lead to rickets in children, birth defects in babies from abnormal skeletal growth, and life-long dire health consequencies for nearly anybody with such a low level of vitamin D.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
The optimal level of vitamin D as measured by the standard 25(OH)D vitamin D blood test appears to be somewhere between 50 ng/mL to 80 ng/mL (equivalent to 125 nmol/L to 200 nmol/L). There is little evidence of adverse health effects from vitamin D levels until the 25(OH)D test yields measurements well above 100 ng/mL (250 nmol/L).
Such high levels of blood serum vitamin D are seldom reached except by people who chronically take doses of vitamin D3 far in excess of 10,000 IU per day or somebody foolish enough to take millions of IU in one or a few doses. Most vitamin D3 supplements for consumers top out at 5000 IU per capsule, so taking one million IU at a time would involve downing 200 some capsules which is likely more than a bottle full of vitamin D3. You might get sick from drinking so much liquid to take so many capsules before you overdosed on vitamin D3.
As TIME’s recent article Preventing Preemies discusses, the rate of premature births among African-American women is catastrophic.
(from Preventing Preemies)
Perhaps more troubling is the pronounced racial disparity in infant mortality. African-American babies die more than twice as often as non-Hispanic white babies. (But taken alone, even white Americans would rank just 26th in infant survival globally, behind most of the world’s high-income populations; black Americans would fall about 10 places lower.) This divergence is driven largely by blacks’ higher rates of preterm birth. Since the death-rate gap persists even among highly educated and high-income Americans — well-educated blacks have higher preterm-birth rates than poorly educated whites — some researchers think there could be greater stress among blacks at all social strata or a genetic predisposition to certain inflammatory responses among some African Americans.
That’s because inflammation, researchers believe, may trigger early labor. Labor itself appears to be an inflammatory process. In biopsies of women undergoing cesarean sections, Scottish researchers found large numbers of pro-inflammatory white blood cells in the cervixes of women who had begun labor. Other studies found these cells in fetal membranes during labor, as well as gene expression in the mother consistent with localized inflammation. If such a far-reaching mechanism is to blame, it might explain why discrete treatments, like treating a single infection, don’t always help.
I think it’s highly evident that dark-skinned people living away from the equator are at considerable health risk unless they supplement with vitamin D3. Given the data from the studies mentioned above including the widespread findings that vitamin D deficiency is involved in inflammatory processes and the much higher incidence of vitamin D deficiency in dark-skinned Americans, it seems like a safe bet that future research will one day show that vitamin D deficiency is a significant cause for a variety of health problems afflicting African-American children disproportionately including elevated rates of autism and premature births versus those found in Caucasians.
Dark-Skinned Children at High Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency
The risk for vitamin D deficiency is by no means confined to dark-skinned pregnant women and fetuses. Among the most at-risk children in the US are those with dark skin who drink little milk due to genetic tendencies towards lactose intolerance.
Milk is one of the few common food products that contains a significant amount of vitamin D. In the US and Canada, milk is fortified with small amounts of vitamin D, generally somewhat less than 400 IU per quart or liter. Most other foods rich in vitamin D such as salmon and cod liver oil are seldom consumed on a daily basis.
This avoidance of vitamin D fortified foods due to lactose intolerance or other dietary concerns is particularly problematic for many Hispanic-American and African-American children. It is even more troubling for those who are Muslim or practice similar customs that involve covering themselves with clothing that blocks sunlight that would help their bodies generate some of the vitamin D necessary for health.
Lighter skin is more efficient at producing vitamin D. So African-Americans are at a double disadvantage for synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight — in the United States. Their darker skin blocks the ultraviolet light that triggers this chemical reaction. In their native lands, closer to the equator where sunlight is more direct, their darker skins would have enough sun exposure to synthesize vitamin D.
Peoples in high northern latitudes, such as Europeans, slowly developed lighter skin over tens of thousands of years to adapt to the weaker sunlight to generate enough vitamin D to survive. African-Americans’ forced migration from Africa occurred over a period of only a few hundred years.
Also, most African Americans — and most of the world, actually — are lactose intolerant and cannot digest cow milk well. So many do not drink enough milk. Natural sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil (as if anyone can stomach this, let alone find it outside their great-grandmother’s cupboard) and salmon and mackerel (tasty, but expensive).
In Philadelphia many rickets cases involve children of Black Muslims, and the culture of conservative clothing likely played a role.
Yet doctors wonder whether the African-American communities are providing a warning call for all of America, as kids of all races drink less milk, the primary albeit artificial source of vitamin D for most clothed, non-farming residents of North America.
Campaign to End Vitamin D Deficit in US
The D*Action Campaign has been organized by medical, science, and public health professionals across the United States to raise public awareness of the vitamin D nutritional crisis, provide for inexpensive vitamin D testing, and collect data to further understand the correlation between vitamin D levels and a variety of diseases.
40-60% of the entire US population is vitamin D deficient.
The causal link between severe vitamin D deficiency and rickets or the bone disease of osteomalacia is overwhelming, while the link between vitamin D insuffiency and osteoporosis with associated decreased muscle strength and increased risk of falls in osteoporotic humans is well documented by evidence-based intervention studies
There are newly appreciated associations between vitamin D insufficiency and many other diseases, including tuberculosis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, high blood pressure, increased heart failure, muscle myopathy, breast and other cancers which are believed to be linked to the non-calcemic actions of the parent vitamin D and its daughter steroid hormone. However a causal link has yet to be proven by appropriate vitamin D intervention studies.
It is projected that the incidence of many of these diseases could be reduced by 20%-50% or more, if the occurrence of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency were eradicated by increasing vitamin D intakes. The appropriate intake of vitamin D required to effect a significant disease reduction depends on the individual’s age, race, lifestyle, and latitude of residence. New evidence indicates that the intake should be in the range of 2000 IU per day for adults. Intake of 2000 IU/day is the current upper limit of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board.
It is well documented that the darker the skin, the greater the probability of a vitamin D deficiency. Even in southern Arizona, 55% of African Americans and 22% of Caucasians are deficient.
Optimize Your Vitamin D Intake TODAY!
With the growing evidence of why vitamin D is important in the body, epidemic levels of vitamin D deficiency, and the low cost of supplements and testing to achieve optimal vitamin D levels, you owe it to your children and yourself to adjust your vitamin D levels upwards to the optimal range.
Please get started now so you have time to get your vitamin D levels up before the winter flu season arrives.
I’d like to see everybody healthy regardless of race. But as you can see, race may have a significant connection to vitamin D deficiencies.
Given today’s data on vitamin D deficiencies, I believe it is particularly important to spread the word about vitamin D deficiencies if you or your family are dark-skinned or have friends or family who are.
Please send them a copy of this article to help them stay healthy and point out to them that this condition is very likely affecting them already and can be averted inexpensively. You just may save some lives by doing this!
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