Beware of Vitamin D Deficit
August 10, 2005
By: Maayan Sarah Heller
Osteoporosis is a particular concern for women as they age, but vitamin D levels must also be taken more seriously, according to experts.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes the body’s absorption of calcium, needed for growth and maintenance of healthy bones, for nerve cells and for the brain.
| Facts to know about Vitamin D: |
Vitamin D is called “The Sunshine Vitamin” because the sun is the best source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficit can lead to rickets in children and osteoporosis or osteomalacia in adults.
Though vitamin D deficit is a particular problem for women, everyone is at risk and should take the necessary steps to protect and take care of themselves.
Depression has also been linked to vitamin D deficit and osteoporosis, because people who are depressed don’t go out as often, don’t eat as well, and exercise less.
Look for vitamin D3, which is the same as what’s produced by the sun, as opposed to vitamin D2, which is more common in supplements – vitamin D3 is considered to be approximately 40-50% more effective than vitamin D2.
In the United States, the further north you live, the less vitamin D your body produces in the winter months, but, if you get enough sun exposure during the spring, summer and fall, your body can store the excess vitamin D in its fat to be released during the winter.
Vitamin D levels should be monitored by your doctor; your doctor can order a blood test to check them.
Vitamin D is found in foods like eggs, liver fortified milk and orange juice, cod liver oil, salmon, other oily fish, some cereals, beef liver, cheese and others.
You should always take a vitamin D supplement, no matter what time of year.
A recent study found that many women being treated for osteoporosis have considerably low vitamin D levels. In fact, according to Michael Holick, Ph.D., M.D., one of the study’s authors and a leading expert on the subject, more than half the women in the study were below necessary levels.
“Women at an advanced age are at higher risk for several reasons,” said Dr. Holick. “Aging decreases the ability to make vitamin D and most diets don’t contain enough, so we require supplements, but most supplements don’t have enough either.”
Doctors recommend you consume around 1,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D daily (check your food and supplement nutrition facts). Most multivitamins contain only 400 IUs. To get enough, you now must take a separate vitamin D tablet every day.
For a long time doctors focused on calcium supplements in patients with weak bones or with osteoporosis.
But, said Marianna Marguglio, M.D., a private internist in Amherst, Mass., “calcium alone is just not going to do it. Vitamin D has been ignored for too long.”
And, she added, “you can take all the calcium you want, but without enough vitamin D in your system, it won’t help at all.” But the biggest reason women have such high risk of vitamin D deficit according to Holick, “is that women are encouraged to avoid all sunlight in order to avoid wrinkles and skin cancer.”
In fact, direct sunlight is essential for optimal vitamin D creation and it’s the best source for it. According to Dr. Holick, the vitamin D you get from the sun is one of the most powerful nutrients the body uses. It offers protection from Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, and some of the most deadly internal cancers.
Your body can make the vitamin by absorbing direct sunlight through the skin. So Dr. Holick says he and most other experts now tell people that moderate “unprotected” sun exposure is necessary.
Experts agree that vitamin D deficit is more common in certain geographic locations. According to Dr. Holick, “if you live north of Atlanta, you can’t make any vitamin D in the winter. The rest of the time you need to stay out approximately 25% of the time it takes you to get pink – not to burn. This is usually five to 10 minutes.” Holick also says the amount of time will vary depending on the time of year and day. “You’ll probably need a few more minutes in spring and fall, and it has to be between the hours of 10 and three o’clock,” he said.
Though people are taught to cover up in the sun, Dr. Holick emphasizes that brief unprotected exposure is crucial and will satisfy the body’s vitamin D requirement without significantly damaging the skin.
But be careful, and take care of your skin with proper protection the rest of the time, and make sure your diet fills your vitamin D needs, too.
Last updated: 10-Aug-05