Call for vitamin D infant death probe

BBC News

By Andrew Hosken

26 January 2012

Dr Irene Scheimberg and Dr Marta Cohen believe they have discovered vitamin D deficiency in a significant number of children who have died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The doctors say that vitamin D deficiency and associated diseases such as the bone disease rickets could potentially explain deaths and injuries that are often thought to be suspicious.

They fear that children with such deficiencies may have been taken away from their parents and placed in foster care for no good reason. The findings in children from London and Yorkshire followed the discovery by Dr Scheimberg in 2009 of congenital rickets in a four-month-old baby whose parents had been accused of shaking him to death.

In Yorkshire, Dr Cohen found moderate to severe levels of vitamin D deficiency in 45 children, mostly infants aged less than 12 months, who died of natural causes. Of the 24 sudden infant deaths Dr Cohen investigated from this group, 18 – or 75% – were deficient in vitamin D. Dr Scheimberg said severe vitamin D deficiency could make the bones of small babies very brittle and capable of fracture with little or no real force. “Obviously if you have bones that fracture easily then they will fracture easily they will fracture with any normal movement like trying to put a baby grow on a baby you will twist their arm. In a normal child you won’t produce anything. But in a child whose bones are weakened and [who have] an abnormal cartilage growth area, then it’s easier for them to get these very tiny fractures or even big fractures.”

Dr Scheimberg, based at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel has said “I think there should be a commission that studies all these cases [which would] take into consideration the age of the children, the gender, the race and the way in which the way these families live – particularly when the children are still alive and living in foster care when they could be back with their families.”

 

 

Recently Chana Al-Alas,19, and Rohan Wray, 22, were acquitted of murdering their son Jayden after the jury learned that his fractures, supposedly telltale signs of abuse, could have been caused by his severe rickets. Dr Scheimberg also discovered rickets in Jayden’s mother. Dr Scheimberg discovered vitamin D deficiency in a further 30 cases in London. Vitamin D deficiency was found to be a cause of death in three cases. Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, was discovered in two small babies. A third died of hypocalcemic fits, a condition of low serum calcium levels in the blood caused by vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency was a co-existing finding in the sudden and unexpected deaths of eight children, so-called Sudden Infant Death or Sids; in five children with bronchial asthma and another five with combined bacteria-polyviral or polyviral infections. Two of the babies, including baby Jayden, also had fractures.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and endocrinologists are experts in how the body is regulated by the hormone excreting glands – or endocrine organs. Stephen Nussey is professor of endocrinology at St George’s Hospital at Tooting in south London. He believes that, despite repeated government recommendations on vitamin D supplementation, vitamin D deficiency is still not being taken sufficiently seriously by the authorities.

Earlier this week, the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, wrote to doctors, nurses and other health professionals advising them to consider vitamin D supplementation for certain at risk groups, including pregnant mothers.

“We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood. People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements. Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health,
including rickets in young children,” she explained. “Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

Blood tests to check serum Vitamin D 25OH, was one of the most requested private blood test in 2011, not sure about the NHS, this time of the year in particular reveals that many people, perhaps the majority of the UK population may have insufficient levels. We get Vitamin D from dietary sources but we also need sunlight to convert it, in Northern Hemishere countries from October to March the UV radation from the sun is not at the adequate wavelength to do the job properly. No wonder so many people feel “low” at this time of the year, never mind the recession, check your Vitamin D levels and make sure you have adequate amounts in your diet or use short term replacement, especially for vunerable groups.

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