A growing number of studies shows that vitamin D is an important tool for preventing ear infections in young children. Vitamin D, found naturally in some foods and in enriched foods, and made by the skin when exposed to sunlight, is used by our immune systems to fight disease — the vitamin D receptor (VDR) is present in many types of cells that the immune system manufactures when it’s under attack by invading microbes.
Ear infections are very common among babies and younger children; because they have the potential to damage a child’s hearing when they’re untreated or when they’re recurrent, it is essential for parents and caregivers to take all steps possible to avoid them.
Recent studies have shown that low vitamin D levels in blood plasma are linked to greater numbers of ear infections, as well as respiratory infections and gastrointestinal upset, particularly in infants and children younger than 5.
In a recent study by the University of Milan in Italy, children just under three years of age with recurrent ear infections were split into two groups: one group got a placebo, and the other group got 1,000 IU’s (International Units) of daily vitamin D. The children were treated for a four-month period, and they were monitored for six months.
The results showed that the group that got vitamin D supplementation had a much lower risk of developing one or more episodes of acute otitis media (AOM) during the six months. AOM is the most common type of ear infection and affects the middle ear. Children who were given the vitamin D got 26 middle-ear infections, while the placebo group got 38. The risk of less severe ear infections was also lower in the vitamin D group.
AOM infections, where the middle ear swells up, are the most common reason for children under five years of age to need medical intervention. Study researchers recommended vitamin D supplementation for children with low levels of the vitamin in their plasma.
A diet with plenty of foods rich in vitamin D is of course another way to avoid low levels of this important vitamin in your child. These foods include: dairy products, fish such as salmon and canned tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms (the larger kinds, like shiitake and portobello, are especially rich in D vitamin), and enriched foods (including whole-grain cereals).
How to Get Vitamin D if Your Child Is Lactose-Intolerant or Is Allergic to Milk Proteins
Children with lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergies are at greater risk of becoming vitamin D-deficient. For these children, you should consult with your pediatrician first; but what works for some is giving them lesser amounts of milk or dairy products at a time, spreading out these foods throughout the day, which decreases the chances of stomach upset or an allergic reaction. Also, organic milk is often much better tolerated by children (and adults), since it does not have the antibiotic or pesticide residues that non-organic milk has, and is therefore easier on the gastrointestinal tract.
For children whose pediatricians have determined to be lactose-intolerant, you can also try giving them low-lactose dairy products, such as aged cheeses (like cheddar or Swiss), yogurt, or lactose-reduced and lactose-free milk. Children with severe milk allergies, who are a relatively small number, may have to abstain from eating dairy products completely. For these children, soy- or rice-based foods or milks enriched with vitamin D, and other foods with vitamin D, may be the way to go.
Another strategy for strengthening your child’s immune system is to make sure that he or she eats plenty of vegetables and fruits every day. These have antioxidants that fight disease and that are in some cases not found in other foods; they’re also rich in dietary fiber, which will help your youngster stay regular. Having regular (daily) bowel movements is another way to insure that the body’s waste products are routinely eliminated.
For a young child, it’s key to make every calorie count. Instead of allowing your kid to fill up on sugary cereals, candy bars, sodas, and the like, teach him or her to enjoy the flavors of all those natural foods that don’t pose any health problems for the individual child. Natural foods are the most nutritious and health-promoting, by far.
Getting regular exercise is also great for the immune system and overall health. Let your kid play in the Sun for a bit every day, thus getting a physical workout while he or she absorbs sunshine, which will also replenish the child’s stores of vitamin D.
By Lisa Pecos