Vitamins are organic nutrients essential for the proper functioning of the body and healthy living. They work chemically with enzymes and help the process of metabolism, tissue repair, cell production, and other important activities. The body can manufacture only vitamins D, K, and B (biotin) from sources other than dietary intake. The rest of the vitamins are supplied to the body through food and supplements. Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins. They dissolve in water and cannot be stored by the body. Excess amounts of vitamins are flushed out of the body through urine. Since the body cannot store these vitamins, they need to be replenished daily.

Babies Need Vitamin D Supplements

Babies, children, and teens should be taking vitamin D supplements — either as drops or in pill form — for good bone health. It’s especially important for infants who are breastfed, since breast milk contains only small amounts of vitamin D, and a lack of this vital vitamin could seriously affect baby development. That’s the word from the nation’s leading pediatricians, outlined in a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The statement appears in the April 2003 issue of Pediatrics

“There’s evidence that many children are vitamin D-deficient long before they show signs of rickets,” says Frank R. Greer, MD, a member of the AAP”s Committee on Nutrition, and professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His committee helped write the new policy regarding baby development.

Rickets is a bone-softening disease linked with inadequate vitamin D intake, Greer tells WebMD. Weakened bones in small children result in bowed legs, soft skulls, and delays in crawling and walking. Doctors are seeing increasing numbers of children with rickets, he says. Sunlight can be a major source of vitamin D, since skin can produce the vitamin. However, sun exposure is difficult to measure — and is dangerous for young infants. In fact, parents are urged to keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Very early exposure to sunlight seems to greatly impact risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen prevents the skin from making vitamin D, even though it offers important protection against skin cancer.

Most bottle-fed babies get enough vitamin D, since formula is fortified for optimal baby development, says Greer. However, doctors are encouraging new mothers to breastfeed their infants to boost immunity. With this comes a concern — that baby development will be impaired if infants get too little vitamin D.

Signs of weakening bones are subtle, so damage may occur before there are any outward signs of a baby development problem, he adds. Drop form of Vit D is available for infants. Beginning in the first two months of life, a minimum of 200 IU of vitamin D per day promotes optimal baby development, Greer tells WebMD. “This should continue throughout childhood and adolescence. In fact, throughout our lives, we should all take at least 200 units a day. After age 65, we may need to take a little more.”

Kumaravel Rajakumar, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh said that “We’ve come to realize that rickets is indeed a problem for babies who are exclusively breastfed — especially if they are dark-skinned in color. Those babies seem to be most at risk. By Jeanie Lerche Davis, WebMD Health News.

Adults need Vitamin D Supplements

Your body must have vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). You also need vitamin D for other important body functions. Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, and other maladies. These studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease, although they do not definitively prove that lack of vitamin D causes disease — or that vitamin D supplements would lower risk. The Vitamin D Council — a scientist-led group promoting vitamin D deficiency awareness — suggests vitamin D treatment might be found helpful in treating or preventing autism, autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, flu, neuromuscular diseases, and osteoporosis. However, there have been no definitive clinical trials. That’s why the Institute of Medicine expert committee’s November 2010 review found no conclusive evidence that vitamin D, by itself, offers wide-ranging health benefits.

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