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Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

New finding: Vitamin D deficiency associated with increased risk of anemia

Anemia or low blood is present in up to 20% of children at some time during their childhood.

Some physicians think childhood anemia is almost always caused from iron deficiency, but a 2005 study called that into question, finding anemia was common in children with adequate iron stores and that most children with iron deficiency did not have anemia.

White KC. Anemia is a poor predictor of iron deficiency among toddlers in the United States: for heme the bell tolls. Pediatrics. 2005 Feb;115(2):315-20.

So what causes anemia in childhood?

While there are many potential causes, it appears that much of the anemia of childhood is idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.

In a recent study, Dr. Meredith Atkinson, working under senior author Professor Jeffrey Fadrowski of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, may have helped answer some of these questions. They are the first to discover that vitamin D levels are correlated with childhood anemia.

Atkinson MA, Melamed ML, Kumar J, Roy CN, Miller ER 3rd, Furth SL, Fadrowski JJ.  Vitamin D, Race, and Risk for Anemia in Children. J Pediatr. 2013 Oct 8

They studied more than 10,000 children (average age 12) from NHANES III, a large group of Americans who represent the population at large. They found that the overall prevalence of anemia in children was 4%, but this dramatically differed by race, with 2% of white children being anemic and 14% of black children (P < .001).

The median 25(OH)D level (as measured by Diasorin RIA) was 27 ng/ml in the white children but only 17 ng/ml among black children. RIA tends to overestimate 25(OH)D levels, but the relative contrast between dark-skinned and light skinned children was stark.

For all children, the odds ratio (OR) for anemia for those with 25(OH)D levels less than 30 ng/mL, compared with 25(OH)D over 30 ng/mL, was almost 2 (P = .006). Furthermore, even when they controlled for iron status (measured in a subgroup of 2,700 children), they found those children with a 25(OH)D less than 30 ng/mL compared with over 30 ng/mL still continued to have an increased risk for anemia (OR 3.5, P = .016).

Finally, they found something else that was very interesting. They found the cutoff or threshold for the relationship between 25(OH)D and anemia was 20 ng/ml for the white children but only 11 ng/ml for the black children. They speculated that the percentage of bioavailable 25(OH)D was higher in black children, which may account for these different cutoffs.

The authors did not speculate whether childhood anemia may be caused by vitamin D deficiency. Future research should elucidate if getting enough vitamin D can reduce childhood anemia.

  About: John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

2 Responses to New finding: Vitamin D deficiency associated with increased risk of anemia

  1. Rita and Misty says:

    I wonder if the number of cases of childhood anemia has increased over the last 30 years, corresponding to the anti-sun campaign and the general move towards indoor play activities rather than outdoor play activities.

    I also wonder if children with autism have higher rates of anemia.

  2. acar4 says:

    I was D deficient (also Iron, B12, folic acid, Vit A) during pregnancy (due to undiagnosed Coeliac Disease) and baby #4 was born D deficient and coincidentally anaemic and B12 deficient.

    This was sadly not discovered until day 12 post delivery when my usually ample supplies of breast milk were just not normal and baby was losing weight. She was also exhibiting some odd neurological behaviours (odd to me compared to the other 3 babies).

    We spent 12 days in NICU whereby she was rehydrated and supplemented with formula (which broke my heart to introduce such foreign substances into her immature gut) whilst also attached to a supply line which ran down my breast along side the nipple and into her mouth. This stimulated the nipple to increase my supply which was guessed at being low due to my age 43.

    I had this awful intuition it was not that! I felt my milk was not normal due to some other reason. Not my “advanced maternal age” which incidentally is such an unflattering term.

    After blood tests revealed my severe deficiencies the turn around was simply remarkable in a matter of 10 days. I was given injections of B12, 300,000 IU of D3, iron transfusions (painful and caused violent nausea). My Vitamin A was also topped up and my milk started to change within 48 hrs. It was remarkable really. If I had not insisted there was something amiss with my normal supply and that I was to have us treated as a Dyad I hate to think where we would have ended up. The NICU were really just interested in her post birth condition and wanting to treat her but since I had “grown” her I felt sure the problem had been passed onto her whilst in utero. Therefore the answers may lie within me. So glad I stuck to my guns.

    We were discharged with her fully breast feeding, no supplementation whatsoever!

    She behaved as my other newborns did. The weird behaviours were gone. The squirming and inability to keep still had disappeared. I think that was the lack of B12. It was almost like she had restless leg syndrome. Horrible. She had a strange cry too prior to supplementation. One of the Drs thought she may be profoundly deaf as it was the oddest sound. Turned out she was just starved of nutrients as my poor Coeliac body struggled to nourish her. We are probably lucky she was born weighing 3.3kg.

    Happy happy endings. She regained her weight within 14 days and we continued home to begin a more healthy start to her babyhood.

    Anna in Australia

    Ps she has been diagnosed at 4 yrs with Coeliac Disease.