An only six-month-old baby died of heart failure and the following complications. The tragedy was a result of severe vitamin D deficiency, which, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham, could have been avoided with better control. They now demand that the health authorities change their policy regarding vitamin D supplements, so that they take into account the special needs of babies, pregnant women, dark-skinned individuals, and population groups that are more likely to be vitamin D-deficient. With this tragic death, which does not stand alone, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Having too little vitamin D can also increase your risk of weak bones, infections, asthma, autism, and many other diseases.
Noah Thahane, a six-month-old baby, died of heart failure and complications that followed. The underlying cause was an undiagnosed severe vitamin D deficiency. According to Dr. Wolfgang Högler and Ph.D. Dr. Suma Uday, who are affiliated with the University of Birmingham, this tragic death could easily have been avoided if the health authorities had been more focused on preventing vitamin D deficiencies.
The two researchers address the fact that the current recommendations in Great Britain are too general and outdated, and they therefore call for updated recommendations that include vitamin D supplementation for all babies, regardless if they are breastfed or not.
The scientists also recommend that the British health authorities introduce mandatory monitoring of vitamin D blood levels in pregnant women and babies in order to make sure that they take the supplements. In fact, they compare the necessity of vitamin D supplements given to children with the existing child vaccine program. Just for the record, there are no side effects from giving vitamin D supplements to children. Their scientific work is published in the science journal BMC Pediatrics.
Vitamin D and calcium is important for a lot more than our bones
It is commonly known that vitamin D is important for the uptake of calcium, which the bones need. Lack of vitamin D in the childhood may not only cause rickets but even result in weak bones later in life, which is a problem that typically goes unnoticed, until it is too late. Calcium is also essential for the transfer of nerve impulses, blood pressure, and muscle function. Just think of the heart muscle that contracts around 100,000 times every day.
The severe vitamin D deficiency that Noah Thahane suffered from resulted in cardiac failure, simply because the heart cells lacked calcium.
The researchers refer to two other babies aged four to six months, who also developed heart failure and rickets because of severe vitamin D and calcium deficiency. The clinical symptoms were insidious in all three cases, however, and the babies’ need for vitamin D was not taken into account until it was already too late.
What we have seen with the three infant cases of severe vitamin D deficiency is just the tip of the iceberg. A vitamin D deficiency can result in many other symptoms, with studies linking deficiencies to respiratory infections, type 2 diabetes, overweight, asthma, and autism.
Why vitamin D deficiencies are so common
The diet only provides limited quantities of vitamin D. Our major source is the vitamin D that we synthesize in our skin when exposed to the summer sun. The skin’s ability to synthesize the vitamin decreases the darker a person’s skin is. In addition, the sun sits too low in the sky during the period from October to April for the synthesis to happen, at least in the northern hemisphere. It is estimated that one in five adults and one in four children in Great Britain lacks vitamin D, and these deficiencies are most common among people with dark skin.
Large parts of the population are in the danger zone
Noah Thahana and the two other babies that suffered tragic deaths were all born in England. Their mothers are black or Asian or belonged to an ethnic minority (BAME) that is more likely to be vitamin D-deficient. For that reason, the researchers found severe vitamin D deficiency among several of the babies’ family members.
In Great Britain, blacks, Asians, and other minority groups currently represent 14 percent of the population, but vitamin D deficiencies are also common among people, who spend too little time outdoors, who are veiled, or who use too much suncream. Other risk groups include senior home residents, people older than 70 years, overweight individuals, and diabetics, all of whom have an increased need for the nutrient.
The researchers call for prevention programs
According to the University of Birmingham researchers, it is objectionable that the health authorities have failed to address the individual need for vitamin D among dark-skinned people and their babies, who are particularly vulnerable. They recommend completely new strategies that include nutrient enrichment of foods, the use of supplements, and health programs with information campaigns, blood testing, routine screening of pregnant women and their babies, and financial support.
Noah’s mother, Beverly Thahana, has told that her son had already suffered a stroke, which the doctors were unable to account for. Not long after, when Noah was six months old, he suffered the tragic heart attack at home, from which he was not able to recover.
It was Dr. Högler’s team that eventually discovered that Noah Thahane suffered from severe, undiagnosed vitamin D deficiency, which resulted in rickets and the complicated heart attack. Noah’s mother, however, had not been properly informed about her son’s need for vitamin D and the fact that he was at an increased risk of deficiency due to his darker skin. She therefore hopes that sharing her story will inspire health authorities to focus a lot more on prevention.
Dr. Högler explains how countries like Canada have added vitamin D to foods for a long time and had great success with it.
Suma Uday et al. Cardiac, bone and growth plate manifestations in hypocalcemic infants: Revealing the hidden body of the vitamin D deficiency iceberg. BMS Pediatrics 2018.
University of Birmingham. Tragic death of baby highlights the need for vitamin D public health policy change. ScienceDaily June 26, 2018
David A Jolliffe et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent asthma exacerbations: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2017
Vibeke Mikkel Hansen. Forældre glemmer, at give deres småbørn D-vitamin. DR Ligetils nyheder 05-09-2017
Khaled Sall et al. Randomized controlled trial og vitamin D supplementation in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2016
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