According to a new study, babies could be certain of receiving plenty of vitamin D in their first year of life to protect them from obesity.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that infants with low vitamin D levels were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a network of conditions like high blood sugar, excess waist fat, and bad cholesterol, during their teens.
Low vitamin D levels in early life alone were an indication of a higher risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the years to come, the researchers found.
In their study, they couldn't determine whether low vitamin D levels themselves could cause these health problems.
Suffice it to say, however, that feeding vitamin D fortified milk to babies could reduce the risk of obesity.
Separate research has also shown that adequate vitamin D intake can protect against severe COVID-19, at least in adults.
New research from the University of Michigan found that for every unit that a baby's vitamin D levels were higher, their BMI rose more slowly in early childhood. Infants who received enough vitamin D in their first year of life had more muscle and less body fat as teenagers. The CDC recommends that babies be given additional vitamin D (picture, file) in the first days of life
To assess how vitamin D levels might affect cardiovascular risk, researchers analyzed data on 300 out of 1,800 recruited in low- and middle-income areas in Santiago, Chile.
They measured these infants' vitamin D levels and then tracked their childhood and adolescent health.
What they found was a remarkable relationship between vitamin D in infancy and future cardiovascular health.
For every unit of more vitamin D they found in those early blood samples taken when children were just one, a child's body mass index (BMI) rose more slowly between the ages of one and five.
Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. Your obesity is more likely to be more extreme, and the possible complications of that obesity are generally worse.
Perhaps more importantly, the University of Michigan team found that infants who got enough vitamin D had fewer signs of metabolic syndrome by age 16 or 17.
They had healthier blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and were less resistant to insulin (a good sign that they didn't develop diabetes) by the time they reached their teenage years.
And children who got plenty of vitamin D as babies had less body fat and more muscle mass as they grew older than children with low vitamin D levels by one year of age.
HOW DO ADULTS ENSURE THAT THEY ARE RECEIVING ENOUGH VITAMIN D?
Sunlight is our main source of vitamin D.
The reaction of UV light with cholesterol triggers the production of the vitamin.
However, people with darker skin have more melanin, making it harder for the skin to absorb UV radiation and make vitamin D.
We can also incorporate vitamin D into our systems – albeit in smaller doses – in our diets by eating foods, including:
- FISH: such as salmon, trout, halibut, mackerel, sturgeon, swordfish and cod, herring, sardines and tilapia
- MUSHROOMS: including portobellos and chanterelles
- MILK: including low-fat milk, low-fat chocolate milk, soy milk, almond milk and rice milk
- YOGURT: most types and flavors
- HARD BOILED EGGS
- PORK MEAT
- REINFORCED ORANGE JUICE
- SOME REINFORCED CEREALS
"We can never tell if there is a cause from an observational study, but from a predictive point of view, at least, the fact that a single vitamin D measurement in early life predicts cardiovascular risk over such a long period is compelling," said the lead author Dr. Eduardo Villamor, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
Although the study was conducted in Chile, its results could provide a potential tool to combat the ever-rising obesity rate among children in the United States, where one in six children now has an unhealthy BMI.
About nine percent of children – about 6.7 million – in the United States are vitamin D deficient, according to a study by Emory University.
The relationship between vitamin D and metabolic health – and thus obesity – is well documented, but how one affects the other is less clear.
One theory is that vitamin D could block the process that makes fat cells.
However, other studies have shown that the relationship works in reverse: obese people tend to be less exposed to the sun, which is the main source of vitamin D.
The "sun vitamin" is also involved in kidney and blood vessel processes that ensure that both the former plays its role in metabolism and the latter is safe from high blood pressure.
And the new University of Michigan study, published Monday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests the link is more than a question of lack of sun exposure for obese people, as it affects variable vitamin D levels in infants examined.
Infants don't spend much time in the sun, and their mothers may not be outdoors enough to get enough vitamin D while they are breastfeeding.
As a result, the CDC recommends that babies who are fully or partially breastfed receive an additional 400 IU of vitamin D per day.
And the new research suggests that making sure your vitamin D levels are maintained throughout the first year of life could have lifelong benefits.
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