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Vitamin D Boosts Brain Development, Weight in Malnourished Children

Vitamin D Boosts Brain Development, Weight in Malnourished Kids

In a new international study, high doses of vitamin D were found to significantly boost weight gain and brain development in malnourished children.

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, has a strong reputation for its beneficial effects on bone and muscle health. A previous study found that the vitamin could also protect against colds and flu. Now new research from the same team is revealing even more benefits.

“High-dose vitamin D significantly boosted weight gain in malnourished children. This could be a game-changer in the management of severe acute malnutrition, which affects 20 million children worldwide,” said lead author Dr. Javeria Saleem from University of the Punjabin Pakistan and Queen Mary University of London.

The findings are published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“This is the first clinical trial in humans to show that vitamin D can affect brain development, lending weight to the idea that vitamin D has important effects on the central nervous system,” said senior author Professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London.

“Further trials in other settings are now needed to see whether our findings can be reproduced elsewhere. We are also planning a larger trial in Pakistan to investigate whether high-dose vitamin D could reduce mortality in children with severe malnutrition.”

The study took place in Pakistan, where an estimated 1.4 million children live with severe acute malnutrition and are at increased risk of long-term effects on their physical and mental health. Currently, high-energy food sachets are the standard treatment for the condition, but they contain relatively modest amounts of vitamin D.

For the study, 185 severely malnourished children aged 6-58 months were treated with an eight-week course of high energy food sachets, and were also randomized to either receive additional high-dose vitamin D (two doses of 200,000 international units / 5 milligrams, given by mouth) or placebo.

After an eight-week period, children given vitamin D supplementation experienced clinically significant improvements in weight. On average, those in the vitamin D group gained an extra 0.57 pounds (.26 kg) compared to the control group.

In addition, vitamin D supplementation resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of children with delayed motor development, delayed language development and delayed global development (reaching certain milestones such as learning to walk or talk).

“Our findings could be a great help to the Health Ministry of Pakistan in dealing with the issue of malnutrition,” said senior author Dr. Rubeena Zakar from University of the Punjab.

The researchers note some limitations to the study, including that it did not look at varying the dose of vitamin D to see if a lower dose would have been sufficient to boost weight gain and brain development. In addition, while no adverse reactions were seen in this study, the possibility of side effects arising with clinical use of this high dose of vitamin D should be taken into consideration.

The study was funded by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

Source: Queen Mary University of London



Vitamin D Boosts Brain Development, Weight in Malnourished Kids

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Vitamin D Boosts Brain Development, Weight in Malnourished Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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