Parents being wrongly accused of the murder and abuse of their babies because of vitamin D deficiency, say doctors
Little-known risk: Jayden Wray who died from a bone condition caused by a vitamin D shortage. His parents were accused of shaking him to death but were acquitted when the jury learned he in fact had rickets. Now doctors say the vitamin deficiency may contribute to other problems, including cot death
Parents are being falsely accused of killing their babies when actually the real cause of their death is due to a vitamin D deficiency, according to top doctors.
Senior paediatric pathologists Irene
Scheimberg and Dr Marta Cohen said such shortages could explain some deaths and injuries that are often thought to be suspicious.
It comes after the parents of
four-month-old Jayden Wray were acquitted of murdering their son, who,
it was later found, had rickets, a bone disease caused by a lack of
Dr Scheimberg and
Dr Cohen fear that many children
with such deficiencies may have been taken away from their parents for
no good reason.
They called for a wider investigation into the issue.
A recent study suggested that one in four
British youngsters may lack vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that
is largely absorbed from sunlight but can also be obtained from
FACTFILE: VITAMIN D EXPLAINED
What is vitamin D
Vitamin D is actually a hormone. It regulates the concentration of calcium and phosphates in the bloodstream and promotes healthy bones.
Without it, your body cannot absorb calcium, causing a host of bone problems – most notably rickets and may, as today’s studies suggest, lead to cot death.
Where does it come from
It is present in certain foods and added to others, but is most commonly made by the body when ultraviolet rays from the sun, pictured below, hit your skin. Pale, younger skin produces Vitamin D fastest.
How much do I need
Around 10mcg is the minimum recommended daily amount. Most of us will get enough from normal exposure to the sun and diet.
What’s the best way to get it
The sun. For those aged under 70 with fair skins, five to ten minutes of casual exposure – just face and arms – between 11am and 3pm when the sun is strongest produces about 250mcg of vitamin D. The same amount is produced by darker skins in about 20 minutes.
Dietary vitamin D – sources include cod liver oil, oily fish, liver, eggs and fortified foods such as cereals, margarine and powdered milk – or supplements are also an option.
But Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital, London, warns: ‘A person would have to drink ten tall glasses of vitamin D-fortified milk each day just to get the minimum levels. Sunlight exposure really is the best way.’
Does my body store it
Yes. Vitamin D is soluble in body fat and can be stored indefinitely in the fatty tissue and used by the body as needed.
Dr Scheimberg and
Dr Cohen, who carried out separate studies, also found that in a significant number of cases cot death victims lacked of vitamin D.
One study found that 75 per cent of
children who succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) were short
of the bone-boosting hormone.
Dr Scheimberg, who works at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, examined the body of Jaden, whose parents Rohan and Chan Wray were accused of shaking him to death in 2009.
It led her to discover vitamin D deficiency in a further 30 cases.
It was found to be a cause of death in three cases.
Two small babies had died of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and a third succumbed to hypocalcemic fits, a condition of low serum calcium levels in the blood caused by a lack of vitamin D.
The deficiency was also found in eight children with Sids, five children with bronchial asthma and another five with combined bacteria-polyviral or polyviral infections.
Two of the babies, including Jayden, also had rib fractures.
Dr Cohen, from Sheffield Children’s Hospital in South Yorkshire, found moderate to severe levels of vitamin D deficiency in 45 children who died of natural causes.
Of the 24 sudden infant deaths Dr Cohen investigated from this group, 18 – or 75 per cent – were deficient.
Dr Scheimberg and Dr Cohen believe their findings merit further investigation and research.
‘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,’ Dr Scheimberg told BBC News.
She said severe vitamin D deficiency could make the bones of small babies very brittle and capable of fracture with little or no real force.
‘We need to investigate the vitamin D levels of these children carefully and the circumstances in which the bones fracture,’ she explained.
‘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.’
Earlier this week, the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, wrote to doctors and nurses to advise them to consider vitamin D supplementation for certain at risk groups, including pregnant mothers and children under five.
Falsely accused: Rohan and Chana Wray were found not guilty of murdering their son Jayden