Parents who give their babies liquid vitamin D are being warned by Health Canada to pay close attention to the dose.
In a statement released Thursday, Health Canada officials acknowledged an alert issued Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging caution when using the droppers accompanying liquid vitamin D. For starters, they should be marked for a maximum of 400 international units (IU).
Some liquid vitamin D products come with droppers that hold a greater amount of vitamin D than an infant should receive, Health Canada said in a public statement.
A dose of 400 IU a day of vitamin D is recommended for breastfed and partly breastfed infants 12 months and younger because breast milk can be deficient in the vitamin. Baby formulas are fortified with vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium in building bones and teeth. A deficiency can lead to bone problems such as rickets, especially in children with darker complexions.
But too much vitamin D can cause a number of symptoms related to excess calcium in the body, including nausea and vomiting, excessive thirst, frequent urination and constipation, and can lead to severe complications such as kidney damage.
Bob Hilliard, a pediatrician at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, says vitamin D's current status as a nutrient with wide-ranging benefits, including as a potential cancer fighter, may lull parents into thinking, "If a little is good, a little more might be better."
After a quick check at his hospital's in-house pharmacy, Dr. Hilliard, the president-elect of the Canadian Paediatric Society, said he found both infant and adult products available, the latter with a dose of 1,000 IU. He agrees that parents should make sure they're using the infant dose correctly.
"Vitamin D toxicity is not common, but there is a risk," he says.
Health Canada has not received any reports of dosing errors. But the statement reminds parents and caregivers to:
• Only use the dropper that comes with the vitamin D supplement purchased; it is manufactured specifically for that product. Do not use a dropper from another product or a spoon.
• Ensure the dropper is marked so that the units of measure are clear and easy to understand. Also check that the units of measure correspond to those mentioned in the instructions. If you have questions regarding the proper dose, talk to a health-care professional before giving the supplement to the infant.
• As with any health product, follow the manufacturer instructions carefully. Keep the vitamin D supplement with its original package so that you and other caregivers can follow the instructions.
• Infant formula contains vitamin D. If your infant is being fully or partly fed with infant formula, check with your pediatrician or other health-care professional before giving the child vitamin D supplements.