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Vitamin D

Widespread vitamin D deficiency in UK leaves children at risk of rickets, cancer

Sunday, November 11, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: vitamin D, rickets, health news


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(NewsTarget) Despite government recommendations, parents in the United Kingdom are not aware of the importance of children and pregnant women supplementing with vitamin D, according to a warning published by two Scottish doctors in the British Medical Journal.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, normally produced by the body upon exposure to sunlight. Because of the vitamin's role in calcium absorption and bone formation, deficiency can lead to rickets -- a softening of bones that can lead to fractures and deformities -- as well as poor tooth formation, stunted growth and general poor health.

In northern latitudes like Britain, where sunlight is weak or scarce, the body may fail to produce sufficient vitamin D. Those with darker skin colors -- those of Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin, according to the article's authors -- are at particularly high risk.

For this reason, the government of the United Kingdom has recommended for more than a decade that all breastfeeding infants receive supplements. The article's authors -- specialist registrar Scott Williamson and consultant pediatrician Stephen Greene, both of Ninewells Hospital in Dundee -- wrote that they have diagnosed five infants with vitamin D-deficient rickets in the last four months. None of the children or mothers had received supplements, and none of the families were aware that the government recommended it.

Williamson and Greene claim that the information on the National Health Service Direct website is not specific enough, and that doctors are not well educated in recognizing the need for supplementation or the symptoms of rickets.

"The signs and symptoms of rickets were recognized by the general practitioner in only one of our cases," the doctors wrote. "We must disseminate the message to all health visitors and general practitioners across the UK."

Earlier in the year, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition called for a public health campaign to supplement high-risk infants with vitamin D.

"There is virtually no awareness of the importance of vitamin D supplements among conventionally trained physicians," said Mike Adams, creator of a special report called, The Healing Power of Sunlight and Vitamin D. "Most doctors remain alarmingly ignorant of the role that vitamin D plays in preventing breast cancer, prostate cancer, depression, osteoporosis and other health conditions, and there are almost no physicians practicing medicine today who actively recommend vitamin D or sunlight to their patients," Adams said.

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