Kids get so little Vitamin D these days, that Rickets- a disease that was thought to be virtually eradicated over 50 years ago in developed countries- is back again. With it's characteristic bowed legs from improper bone hardening, rickets is caused by a simple nutritional deficiency, yet children right here in the US are getting this easily preventable disease in numbers never thought possible!
Rickets became prevalent during the Industrial Revolution in England when the already weak British sun's ultraviolet rays were blocked entirely by the incredible pollution in the air. Since Vitamin D is made naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but is present in few foods, this caused children in the cities to get the characteristic bone deformities that left doctors and scientists scratching their heads as to the cause. When it was finally discovered that lack of Vitamin D was the culprit, scientists soon learned to make a synthetic form of Vitamin D and quickly began fortifying milk products, solving the rickets problem for good- or so they thought.
Some 80 years after the problem was 'solved', rickets is back...
Dr. Laura Tosi, bone health chief at Children's National Medical Center in Washington says, "I am now treating rickets in a way that I never treated it 20 years ago." Even more alarming, however, is a new epidemic where bone formation in children appears normal, but is actually much softer than it should be. As such, girls today break their arms 56% more often than their peers did 40 years ago- and boys 32% more often!
There is no one answer to that question. But the recommendation of most dermatologists to keep children out of the sun for fear of skin cancer is one reason. The widespread use of sunscreen that effectively blocks the skin's ability to make Vitamin D is another. Children's increased time indoors watching television and playing computer games is another reason. Not only does being indoors keep children out of the Vitamin D making rays of the sun, but it also keeps them from doing the essential weight-bearing exercises like running and jumping that encourage young bones to grow denser and stronger.
"Physical activity increases growth in width and mineral content of bones in girls and adolescent females, particularly when it is initiated before puberty," concluded one study. Other studies estimate that children and teens, due to the increased intake of processed foods and sodas, get 20% less calcium than is minimally recommended. So the problem is the perfect storm of not enough Vitamin D, not enough calcium and not enough exercise.
A long term Bone Health Study of US Children is now being done in response to the growing epidemic, and researchers are concerned that widespread osteoporosis may be waiting for this younger generation in adulthood. But some research is just as concerned about the less well known effects that low Vitamin D levels may have on these children later in life. Dr. Cedric Garland, who has been researching Vitamin D for over 20 years, states, "We estimate that we could prevent 75% of cancers by getting everyone's Vitamin D blood level into an optimal range"
As more and more research comes to light, it's becoming clear that insufficient Vitamin D has implications for a vast array of diseases: diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis just to name a few. A comprehensive analysis of many studies even claims sufficient Vitamin D levels can "reduce all cause mortality"! A bold statement considering that drug companies are always hoping that their drug will be able to claim the 'holy grail' status of this medical claim.
Unfortunately, while researchers like Dr. Garland, Dr. Robert Heaney and Dr. John Cannell have been urging moderate sun exposure and higher Vitamin D intakes for decades, governments have been slow to respond. With the Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin D unchanged for over 50 years, our youngest generation may be the ones who are going to suffer the long term effects of governments and medical associations turning a deaf ear to the cries of researchers worldwide.