As researchers and parenting groups continue to measure the effectiveness of recent guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a team of researchers in England are honing in on another possible risk factor -- vitamin D deficiency.
Pediatric pathologists Irene Scheimberg, from the Royal London Hospital, and Marta Cohen, from Sheffield Children's Hospital, found that one in four youngsters may lack vitamin D, the Daily Mail reports.
It's a finding they say could explain a series of infant deaths originally thought to be the result of parental abuse.
In one case, Scheimberg found that a four-month-old baby had suffered from congenital rickets prior to his sudden death, though his parents had been accused of shaking him to death.
Chana Al-Alas,19, and Rohan Wray, 22, were acquitted of murdering their son Jayden after the jury learned that his fractures, supposedly telltale signs of abuse, could have been caused by his severe rickets. Dr. Scheimberg also discovered rickets in Jayden's mother, according to BBC News.
Rickets is a disorder caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. It leads to softening and weakening of the bones.
"Obviously if you have bones that fracture easily then 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," Scheimberg told BBC.
"Although there is no national reporting system for rickets that can give statistics on this condition nationwide, indications are that rickets is on the rise throughout the United States," the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality says in a statement recommending that infants and children who are fed only breast milk should receive 400 IU of vitamin D supplementation daily, beginning by at least 2 months of age.
Rates of both SIDS and vitamin D deficiency are known to be especially high among African-Americans. Though research on SIDS and its increased incidence is ongoing, a study published in September indicated that African-American parents are more likely to use soft bedding in infant cribs, despite it being a known risk factor for sudden infant death. African-American infants have the second highest rates of SIDS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Vitamin D insufficiency is also more prevalent among African Americans than other Americans primarily because pigmentation reduces vitamin D production in the skin.
Incidence of both SIDS and vitamin D deficiency is thought to peak during the winter months.