By: Richard Alleyne —
Casualty departments are dealing with dozens of emergency cases where infants are having seizures as a direct result of not getting enough vitamin D, which is essential for healthy teeth and bones.
In one case, a baby suffered brain damage after a fit.
The study said the extreme cases are part of an escalating problem of a deficiency of the vitamin, which the body makes when exposed to sunlight.
The report in the London Journal of Primary Care blames indoor lifestyles and the use of high sun protection factor creams for a health issue unheard of a decade ago.
The findings have prompted experts to call for vitamin D pills to be made more widely available on the NHS, especially for pregnant women.
The study reveals the introduction of schemes offering mothers supplements has been slow. Some areas of London have no vitamin packs available and people are ignorant about the benefits of vitamin D, which is also found in oily fish, liver and eggs.
Colin Michie, a co-author of the study, said vitamin D deficiency was no longer a “poor” problem and the middle classes are just as vulnerable.
The consultant paediatrician, who works at Ealing Hospital and BMI Clementine Churchill, said GPs should be more alert to symptoms such as muscle aches and pains.
He told the Evening Standard: “This is a totally avoidable condition which is now a public health issue. It’s affecting middle-class children because they’re overprotecting with sunscreen and not going out as much.
SPF is also increasingly in cosmetics used by young women.
“The more dramatic cases tend to be in people who wear traditional clothing and so are covered up.” However, he added, GPs also see a growing number of low-level cases in other groups.
Warnings over the links between sunburn and skin cancer have prompted some people to shun the sun. The actress Gwyneth Paltrow has revealed recently that she was diagnosed with very poor vitamin D levels after years of keeping her skin covered.
A special investigation is being launched into the extent of emergency admissions for patients with vitamin D deficiency.The British Paediatric Surveillance Unit will gather data from hospitals from next year.
Mr Michie analysed the cases of 17 babies and infants treated at Ealing Hospital for a severe lack of vitamin D between 2006 and 2008. He found many experienced a delay in walking, a problem last common in Victorian times.
Cancer Research UK is considering changing it guidelines concerning sun exposure because of the problem.
Instead of advising people to stay out the midday sun completely, it may suggest that a few minutes exposure could be healthy.