As Covid-19 vaccines are still in short supply worldwide, and debate still rages whether children can already be safely given jabs of the experimental vaccines, time is truly of the essence; kids’ immune systems must be strengthened now in order for their own bodies to more effectively fight off any viral infections, especially in this critical period when even receiving emergency care from hospitals that are already overrun with Covid patients has become extremely difficult.
Families must now prioritize taking steps to ensure that their youngest members’ immune systems are at optimum readiness.
And there is a lot of catching up to do. According to the 2018 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s (DOST-FNRI), 1 in 10—or 10.3%—of Filipino children 6 to 12 years old from selected provinces and cities in the country is vitamin D deficient.
Vitamin D, also called the “sunshine vitamin”, is a micronutrient which helps increase mineral absorption like calcium which is necessary for bone health and development. The body can produce its own vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight, in a process that converts a chemical in the skin into an active form of the vitamin called calcitriol.
Lack of vitamin D is strongly associated with bone disorders and diseases, such as rickets. The vitamin also protects against some forms of cancer, and have recognized roles in preventing respiratory diseases (Kumar et al. 2021).
According to healthline.com, our immune systems need vitamin D to work well. It said, “Research from 2011 shows that vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased autoimmune issues and a higher risk of developing infections.” (https://www.healthline.com/health/vegan-vitamin-d#deficiency)
High levels of vitamin D may also help mitigate severe symptoms of Covid-19. An article posted on webmd.com discussed a study involving 3,000 people whose vitamin D levels were tested within 14 days before they got their Covid-19 tests. The study found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 7.2% chance of testing positive for Covid-19. Another found that high levels of vitamin D might lower your risk for severe Covid-19 infection. The article, however, also cited other studies showing no conclusive link between high levels of Vitamin D and the lessened severity of Covid-19 infection (https://www.webmd.com/lung/vitamin-d-covid-19-what-to-know#1).
Still, the fact that vitamin D has been established to help boost the body’s immune system already presents a strong case in favor of getting enough of the vitamin in our systems, especially in the most vulnerable members of society.
Recognizing the importance of vitamin D, DOST-FNRI assessed the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency among children 6 to 12 years old.
Insufficiency more prevalent among girls
According to the 2018 ENNS, a significantly higher proportion of vitamin D insufficiency has been observed in girls (6 in 10 or 57.6%) than among boys (4 in 10 or 43%) aged 6 to 12 years old. A vitamin D concentration of 50 to less than 75 nanomoles (nmol) per liter (L) is considered insufficient (50- <75 nmol/L).
The study also revealed that more children in urban areas (59%) have been found to be insufficient in vitamin D compared to their rural counterparts (45.4%).
The survey likewise reported that up to 5 in 10 of Filipino children 6 to 12 years old across islands (NCR: 57.9%, Luzon: 45.8%, Visayas: 47.7%, and Mindanao: 51.2%) have insufficient levels of vitamin D
More girls also deficient
The 2018 ENNS also showed that among Filipino children 6 to 12 years old, a significantly higher proportion (1 in 10 or 11.9%) of girls are vitamin D deficient, compared to 8.6% of boys. A vitamin D concentration of less than 50 nmol/L is considered deficient (<50 nmol/L).
Significantly, more children, around 18% living in urban areas, are deficient in vitamin D, highest prevalence of which was in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila at 30.1%, the study noted. Vitamin D deficiency prevalence among Filipino children 6 to 12 years old in Luzon is at 6.6%, Visayas 5.1%, and 6.9% in Mindanao.
The survey added that older children 11 to 12 years old have a higher likelihood of having vitamin D deficiency than younger children.
Filipino girls, thus, are 1.5 times more likely to be vitamin D deficient than boys, the study found.
The probability of having vitamin D deficiency is 5.4 times higher in children living in urban areas, the survey concluded.
Based on the Philippine Dietary Recommended Intakes (PDRI) developed by DOST-FNRI, recommended intake for vitamin D is 5 micrograms for children 6 to12 years old for both males and females.
There have been many reports on high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among pediatric populations from various countries worldwide, including in the United States (Gordon et al. 2004), China (Foo et al., 2009), New Zealand (Cairncross et al., 2017), and Africa (Mogire et al., 2021).
Because of its importance in body functions and nutrition, having enough vitamin D in children is essential.
The most practical and free source of vitamin D is from exposure to the sun. This is already sufficient to generate our daily vitamin D requirement.
Healthline.com also lists down the best plant-based sources of vitamin D:
- Fortified soy milk — 1 cup of soy milk fortified with vitamin D contains about 2.9 mcg (116 IU) of vitamin D. Check the label before buying a brand of soy milk to see if vitamin D is included;
- Mushrooms — Mushrooms grown in the dark may not contain a significant amount of vitamin D. However, mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light when growing may contain about 450 IU per 100 gram serving;
- Fortified cereals — Many breakfast cereals and brands of oatmeal are fortified with vitamin D. Cereals fortified with vitamin D will usually list the vitamin in the nutritional information. The amount of vitamin D found in fortified cereals can vary between brands. Most typically contain between 0.2 to 2.5 mcg (8 to 100 IU) per serving;
- Fortified orange juice, or other fortified fruit juices — Not all juices are fortified with vitamin D. Again, check the labels. Brands that are fortified may contain up to 2.5 mcg (100 IU) per serving;
- Fortified almond milk — Fortified almond milk contains about 2.4 mcg (96 IU) of vitamin D per serving;
- Fortified rice milk — Rice milk fortified with vitamin D contains about 2.4 mcg (96 IU) per serving. Some brands of rice milk may also be fortified with other nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin B-12 (https://www.healthline.com/health/vegan-vitamin-d#deficiency)
(DOST-FNRI S&T Media Service)
Watch an extensive discussion of vitamin D’s anti-Covid properties among medical experts in this video presented by MedCram—Medical Lectures Explained Clearly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha2mLz-Xdpg