Vitamin D helps bones absorb, store, and regulate calcium and phosphorus, the minerals essential for building strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is present in many types of fatty fish and fish oils, as well as, in milk and infant formula that are fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D is also made through the skin’s response to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, it is difficult to obtain enough vitamin D exclusively from sun exposure, especially given the prevalent use of sunscreen. Vitamin D absorption requires exposure to just the right wavelength of sunlight and for a lengthy period of time.
Rickets is a serious medical condition in which the bones of a growing child are soft. While this can be caused by genetics, most often it’s the result of a lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D, which along with the minerals calcium and phosphorus, is essential for building strong bones. Rickets can lead to delayed growth, muscle weakness and pain in the spine, pelvis, and legs. The classic symptom of rickets is a bowing of the bones of a child’s legs, which occurs due to the stress of walking on soft bones. Similarly, in infants who crawl instead of walk, bowing or widening can be seen just above the wrists. In severe cases, swelling can also be observed at the ends of the ribs.
Vitamin D deficiency and rickets is diagnosed by conducting a thorough physical examination, blood testing, and x-rays. If rickets is diagnosed, an individualized program that entails taking high-doses of vitamin D supplements to build up the body’s reserves. Often calcium supplementation is required as well to maintain appropriate levels in the blood and to heal the bones.