The Crucial Vitamin D: It’s Not Just for Bone Health!

Temperatures are beginning to cool (in some parts of the country, at least!), and the days are getting shorter, which means that many people will not be spending as much time in the sun as during the warm summer months. Could this retreat indoors result in a vitamin D deficiency? How do we get vitamin D? Humans have two natural sources of vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight The most effective means of attaining proper vitamin D levels, the sun (specifically ultraviolet [UVB] radiation) converts a prohormone in the skin into vitamin D3. For people who have sub-par vitamin D levels, spending some time in the sun can increase levels naturally. Diet The diet of the average American is very low in vitamin D, with only a handful of foods–like fatty fish, egg yolks, and beef liver–naturally containing it. (Some foods like milk and cereals are fortified with vitamin D during manufacture.) Critical to good health Doctors have long known the importance of vitamin D in forming strong, healthy bones–it stimulates the absorption of calcium into the bone. Conversely, a vitamin D deficiency can cause bone calcium loss, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis, osteomalacia, and rickets. But more recent research has shown that vitamin D is also crucial for overall health and proper cellular function in numerous other organ systems.
  • The risk of certain cancers, including prostate, endometrial, skin, pancreatic, and colorectal, is reduced by higher bodily levels of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 and 2 diabetes, as well as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
  • During pregnancy, low maternal vitamin D levels have been correlated to increased odds of a Cesarean section.
  • In children, vitamin D deficiency has been tied to severe asthma.
Could I have a vitamin D deficiency? It has been estimated that up to 50% of the U.S. population, including seemingly healthy children and young adults, are actually vitamin D deficient. And because initial symptoms are typically subtle, most people don’t even know it. There are several factors that can contribute to lower-than-desired levels of vitamin D including:
  • Age–older adults have an increased risk
  • Insufficient sun exposure, including living in higher altitudes
  • Inadequate dietary vitamin D
  • A dark complexion
  • Some malabsorption conditions, as well as liver and kidney disease
A simple blood test can tell you if you are low on vitamin D. Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin and is absorbed from the intestine, vitamin D levels are sometimes monitored in individuals with diseases that interfere with fat absorption, such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Learn more about our low-cost vitamin deficiency tests on >> Learn more about our low-cost vitamin deficiency tests on>> Supplementation If a blood test determines that your vitamin D levels are too low, your doctor may recommend a dietary supplement. The Institute of Medicine’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) for people ages 1-70, and 800 IU for those older than age 70 to optimize bone health. For breastfed babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a supplement of 400 IU per day of vitamin D. Vitamin D tests are also used to determine the effectiveness of treatment when vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, and/or magnesium supplementation has been prescribed. Of note, a 2004 study showed that dietary supplementation with vitamin D3 may be more effective than adding D2 supplements to the diet. Find out if your vitamin supplements are effectively increasing your bodily levels >>
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