Milk Won't Make Kids Einsteins

Vitamin D does not improve the academic performance or brains of children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Although past research has found links between adults' vitamin D levels and brain power, less was known about whether the nutrient helps kids in the same way. It appears that it can't.

A new study found no link between vitamin D levels and improved academic achievement.  

Giving your children vitamin D supplements or pushing them unprotected into the sunlight more often isn't going to boost their brain power.

"Vitamin D is important, just don't over due it."

Anna-Maija Tolppanen, PhD, of the MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology at the University of Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine in the U.K., led the study to find out whether children might gain the same cognitive benefits from vitamin D that had been seen in adults.

Researchers measured the amount of vitamin D levels in 3,171 children when they were 9.8 years old on average, and then they analyzed these children's academic performance when they were 13 to 14 years old and then 15 to 16 years old. They tested both vitamin D2 (which comes from plants) and vitamin D3 (which comes from sunlight).

They assessed children's scores in math, English and science for the 13 to 14-year olds, and they looked at the 15 to 16-year olds scores on the General Certificates of Education exams, a standardized test for high school students in England.

The children were participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which has been tracking the long-term health of a large group of kids born in the early 1990s.

The researchers did not find any link between the levels of vitamin D3 concentration (the kind that comes from sunlight) in the youths and their educational performance.

The researchers did find that higher levels of vitamin D2, the kind that comes from plants, actually associated with slightly lower scores in English when the children were 13 to 14. High vitamin D2 levels were also linked to about 10 percent lower academic performance when the children were 15 to 16 years old.

However, these results do not mean that vitamin D caused academic problems for these kids.

The researchers said it's possible that the mental benefits that have been seen in adults from vitamin D may be something that simply develops later in life or something that builds in a person's body over time.

They also put forth the possibility that adults with poorer cognitive skills might simply spend less time outdoors, thereby ending up with lower levels of vitamin D from sunlight.

"Our findings do not support suggestions that children should have controlled exposure to sunlight, or vitamin D supplements, in order to increase academic performance," the authors wrote.

The authors said that changing public health guidelines regarding protection from UV sunlight so that kids get more vitamin D is therefore unnecessary.

"Our results suggest that protection of children from UVB exposure, which has been associated with low levels of vitamin D, but which protects against skin damage and skin cancer, is unlikely to have any detrimental effect on academic achievement," they wrote.

The study appeared online April 11 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The research was funded by a UK Medical Research Council Grant. The authors declared no competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 16, 2012
Last Updated:
April 16, 2012