Vitamin D supplementation – growing evidence

A recent Study shows children in Sweden need increased vitamin D in winter. And skin colour matters.

Vitamin D in Kids

Rarely a month goes by without the papers reporting at least one health news story related to vitamin D. In recent weeks the media has reported that vitamin D can help relieve the symptoms of asthma and lower blood pressure.

There have been long-standing claims that vitamin D brings a wide range of benefits, from preventing cancer risk to improving mental health, or even reducing your risk of getting multiple sclerosis.


But is there good evidence to back up the claims? And do you need to change your diet or take vitamin D supplements to reduce your risk of disease?

In a 2010 BMJ clinical review on vitamin D deficiency, researchers presented evidence that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of developing a number of chronic conditions, such as:

  • heart disease
  • bowel cancer
  • breast cancer
  • multiple sclerosis
  • diabetes

Who should take vitamin D supplements?

How is vitamin D dosage measured?

Confusingly, there are two measuring systems for vitamin D – international units (IU) and micrograms (µg or mcg). One microgram is equivalent to 40 international units.

Taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day would be the same as 400 IU.

The Department of Health currently recommends that:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate foetal stores for early infancy
  • all babies and young children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops to help them meet the requirement for this age group of 7-8.5 micrograms (280-340IU) of vitamin D a day
  • babies fed infant formula will not need vitamin drops until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as these products are already fortified with vitamin D
  • breastfed infants may need to receive drops containing vitamin D from one month of age if their mother has not taken vitamin D supplements throughout pregnancy
  • people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun should also take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D

ESPGHAN: Study shows children in Sweden need increased vitamin D in winter

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Children living in northern Europe with few hours of sunlight are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and are therefore more dependent on vitamin D from food and supplements, according to a study presented  at ESPGHAN, held in May in Amsterdam.

Researchers at Umeå University in Umeå and Lund University in Malmö, Sweden, evaluated the level of vitamin D supplement needed to ensure that 97.5% of five to seven-year-old children attain serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D [S-25 (OH) D] levels >50 nmol/L, taking latitude and skin color into account. They designed a two-center (Umeå, 63°N, and Malmö, 55°N) longitudinal, double-blind randomized, intervention study including 206 five to seven-year-old children with fair or dark skin.

They found that whereas dietary intake only provided around 60% of the national recommended daily vitamin D intake of 10 ug, supplements resulted in a total mean daily intake (diet and supplement combined) of 16 and 29 ug at follow-up in the intervention groups supplemented with 10 ug/day and 25 ug/day, respectively. Serum-25(OH) D levels of >/=50 nmol/L were attained in 97% and 88% of children with fair and dark skin, respectively, when 10 μg/day of supplements was given during at least 60 days, whereas a supplement of 25 μg/day was needed to reach the same level for 95% of children with dark skin. Skin color, but not differences in latitude between northern and southern Sweden, was the significant factor.

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