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November 21, 2023
Vitamin D became a household word at the height of the pandemic, when studies linked supplementation to better COVID outcomes among hospitalized patients.
But the studies linking this fat-soluble steroid hormone to improved health go back decades – and extend far beyond immune health for vulnerable adults.
Steffi Neth, a marketing communications director in R&D and product development at Lief Labs, gave insight into growth opportunities for Vitamin D in the SupplySide West educational session “Supporting Women & Children Through Their Lifespans via Supplementation.” She labeled Vitamin D one of a handful of promising ingredients “that are on the verge of being considered obligatory now,” which were “practically unheard of” just 15-20 years ago.
Here’s where the growing demand for vitamin D is coming from.
Numerous studies dating as far back as the 1980s have linked low vitamin D levels to increased risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes in expectant mothers. A mother’s high vitamin D levels also helps support the bone health of their newborns. But doctors’ recommendations have been slow to catch up to the science.
“When I was pregnant in 2008, I was not told to supplement with it. Three years later, with my second pregnancy, I was recommended to take it – the same year the Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended it as well,” Neth explained.
“However, vitamin D did not show up as a recommendation by the World Health Organization until 2016. And it's still not as widely taken as folic acid. You can see how it can take a really long time for a nutrient to break through into the mainstream.”
The years between birth and age 12 are where the more familiar benefits of vitamin D become relevant: bone density, immune health, and dental health. These are also the years when children begin to spend most of the daytime in school, which means less time outdoors, less sunshine-derived vitamin D, and more opportunities to get sick.
“According to the Harvard School of Public Health, Vitamin D is an essential supplement for immune support, helping with inflammation and boosting the production of microbe-fighting proteins,” Neth explained.
The Harvard School of Public Health labels vitamin D “the main benefit of a multivitamin,” but there is debate over whether the low amounts (anything less than 400 IU) in multivitamins geared toward children and teens are enough. During puberty, this becomes especially important, Neth says.
“Puberty is a critical phase for bone mineralization and mass,” she said. “Vitamin D is important at this time because it assists with calcium absorption. And recent studies have shown the benefits of vitamin D on mental well-being and adolescents.”
All three of these demographics have multivitamins – and vitamin D products – geared toward them. But Neth says the biggest opportunity to make a lifelong customer starts early: during pregnancy.
“Millions of women who may have never ever taken a supplement before will suddenly be searching for the product that will contribute to the health of her child,” she explains. “Moms often take the lead in Family Health. Women also do the vast majority of purchasing. So understanding these trends among women and children isn't just interesting. It's good business.”
Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor.
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