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Vitamin D Deficiency Still Persists in Babies

A study led by a Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO )researcher has found that children and babies are falling prey to vitamin D deficiency Rickets. Despite the fact that generation subsists on cod liver oil, fortified milk, vitamin supplements and sunshine, vitamin D deficiency rickets has persisted in too many children in Canada.

Rickets, a soft-bone disease that weakens the leg bones and stunts growth, the disease can cause painful bone deformities. Very little vitamin D in the diet, decreases calcium and phosphate levels in the blood. When blood levels of these elements are too low, bones become weak. Rickets can lead a bowing of the legs due to the softening of the bones, though other symptoms are also seen. They include failure to thrive, limited mobility in affected infants. If untreated, there is an increased risk of bone fractures.

The disease is highly preventable with Vitamin D supplement, known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is a hormone that makes it possible to absorb calcium, and a deficiency can trigger seizures - which, if prolonged, can result in brain damage.

Dr. Leanne Ward, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, surveyed 2,325 pediatricians across Canada over two years and learned of an unacceptable number of cases of rickets.

The doctors reported 104 confirmed cases during the study period -- or 2.9 cases for every 100,000 children. Of the 104 cases, 20 cases had progressed to the point where the child had experienced hypocalcemic seizures.

Ward said her figures are only an estimate of the problem because she had surveyed only pediatricians. Family physicians may treat dozens of other children with rickets, especially in rural and northern settings, where pediatricians are few and far between.

Vitamin D is a hormone that makes it possible to absorb calcium, and a deficiency can trigger seizures - which, if prolon ged, can result in brain damage.

Children with darker skin and those who had been breast-fed without vitamin D supplementation were most susceptible.

Ward said most cases were between the ages of a few weeks and seven years old. Pregnant women should also be tested for vitamin D deficiency before birth to determine if they need to take supplements, she said.

Although exposure to sunlight does spark vitamin D production, she believes there is no need to increase sun exposure.

Meanwhile, there is a growing body of research that suggests vitamin D has lifelong benefits for the immune system, and may be an anti-cancer agent, said Dr. Ward.

Dr. Ward believes "We shouldn't see any cases at all. This should be eradicated, like smallpox." The disease should have been eliminated a long back and found only in the pages of medical texts and period novels.


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