ExpertSpeak: Here’s how Vitamin D is an unsung hero of children’s growth and beyond

ExpertSpeak: Here’s how Vitamin D is an unsung hero of children’s growth and beyond

Written by Manjari Chandra
Published: December 12, 2023

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Table of Contents
arrow-right Exploring the multifaceted roles of Vitamin D
arrow-right Optimal vitamin D levels in children
arrow-right Suggested cut-off value for defining Vitamin D status
arrow-right Top vitamin D sources
arrow-right In a nutshell
arrow-right References

Vitamin D deficiency is a pervasive concern among adults, significantly impacting their health. This information has proliferated far and wide over the past decades, and as a result, a large number of adults have started getting their Vitamin D levels tested every once in a while. It’s widely acknowledged how crucial Vitamin D is for our bone health and physiological health.

However, the focus on children's nutrition primarily centres around calcium intake, protein requirements and iron levels. We often scrutinise the adequacy of dairy as a source and explore vegan alternatives. Yet, what often escapes attention is the potential impact of Vitamin D on children’s health in the most crucial growth years of their lives.

Between ages 2 and 10, a child grows at a steady pace, while the final growth spurt of puberty begins between the ages of 9 to 15. These crucial phases involve accelerated growth in areas like cognitive development, social and emotional development, speech and language development, fine and gross motor skills, emotional and hormonal changes, increase in height, menarche in girls, genital changes in boys, etc. Given this rapid development, understanding and addressing Vitamin D's impact on children's health during these pivotal years is important. Particularly for toddlers, kids, and teenagers, the significance of vitamin D in preserving bone health is of utmost importance during this crucial phase of skeletal growth

Exploring the multifaceted roles of Vitamin D

In the ongoing saga of child development and health, Vitamin D has perennially been the unsung hero, even though its importance is manifold. Vitamin D's primary role is to maintain calcium balance and support healthy bones. Rickets, the most severe form of vitamin D-related bone disease, primarily affects children. This is why managing vitamin D levels in children remains of prime importance.

Apart from its major role, growing evidence suggests Vitamin D exerts immune-modulating effects, which intensify innate immunity, helping children fight infections. Additionally, it may help improve their lung and heart health. Adequate Vitamin D has also shown benefits in children with asthma, eczema, and allergies, as demonstrated by research

Emerging evidence suggests a strong relationship between Vitamin D and mental health, too. Adequate levels of Vitamin D in the early stages of life are extremely crucial for brain development. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, and it could lead to potential neurodegenerative, neurological and neurotypical disorders. Vitamin D deficiency can also drastically affect a kid’s IQ, memory and retention. Another interesting fact is that Vitamin D also seems to have a role in influencing sleep patterns, as research suggests its involvement in various neurochemical mechanisms that regulate sleep. Adequate vitamin D levels also help prevent insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia and help children and adolescents maintain the right body weight.

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Optimal vitamin D levels in children

A multistate research study in India has recently found that most kids are Vitamin D deficient. They do not meet their daily requirements.

Even though Vitamin D plays an indispensable role in bodily functions, it is often underestimated as an essential nutrient for children.

Suggested cut-off value for defining Vitamin D status


*Global Consensus Guidelines and Earlier IAP Guidelines 2021

Top vitamin D sources

The most potent and cost-effective source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Therefore, Vitamin D is often referred to as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’. To combat Vitamin D deficiency in various regions and seasons, it is advised that infants get 17-30 minutes of daily sunlight exposure, while older children should target 30-45 minutes. This exposure should encompass 15-40% of their body surface area and occur at least five times a week, ideally between 11 am and 3 pm

When we delve into Vitamin D foods, we find that the active form of Vitamin D (D3) is commonly sourced from non-vegetarian options like fish, liver, and cod liver oil, whereas the inactive form (D2) is found in plant-based foods like mushrooms. According to the Indian Food Composition Table (IFCT), there's a modest amount of Vitamin D in milk (ranging from 5 to 40 IU per litre), as well as in dairy products such as cheese and butter (about 30 IU per 100 grams), although these sources make only a small contribution to the recommended intake.

It's worth noting that while foods rich in Vitamin D may not be sufficient to meet your daily requirements, they should still be encouraged as part of a balanced diet, whether you follow a vegetarian or non-vegetarian dietary pattern.

Another budget-friendly yet effective way to help improve your Vitamin D3 levels is via fortifying the food. Food fortification is also one of the most effective ways to eliminate common nutrient deficiencies in masses. In the US and India, fortified cow’s milk is one of the largest sources of one’s daily Vitamin D intake.

In a nutshell

Parents need to recognise the true potential of Vitamin D in shaping their children’s well-being. This remarkable nutrient, often underestimated, serves as a linchpin for their physical and mental health.

To check whether your child is getting adequate levels of vitamin D or not, check out

  2. White HJ. Vitamin D signalling, infectious diseases, and regulation of innate immunity. Infect Immun. 2008;76:3837-43.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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