Vitamin D deficiency has been researched, discussed, refuted, and ultimately, recognized as a true health issue in the United States. A staggering number of Americans do not get enough vitamin D. According to a study conducted by Dr. Michael Melamed at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published in the Journal of Pediatrics in August of 2009, over 70% of American children are not getting enough vitamin D and the number is higher for older Americans. A long-term deficiency of vitamin D can lead to numerous serious health problems.
Symptoms of a deficiency are subtle or may be nonexistent but could be bone pain, muscle weakness, low energy and depression. The list of possible health problems is long and includes the obvious: osteoporosis and osteoarthritis because vitamin D processes calcium for strong bones, but may also cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, severe asthma and other lung diseases, and an increased risk of cancer, specifically of the breast, colon, prostate and pancreas. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to Type 2 Diabetes and autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. There is even evidence that deficiency could lead to cognitive impairment in older adults and is associated with a larger amount of belly fat!
Testing to evaluate the level of vitamin D in your body provides valuable information to help you determine whether you are getting enough to protect yourself against disease and stay healthy. The gold standard for screening of vitamin D is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. In the kidneys, vitamin D changes into an active form of the vitamin. The 25-hydroxyvitamin D test measures vitamin D in its active form which helps control calcium and phosphate levels in the body. An adequate level of vitamin D is considered to be 30 or more ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) but 36-48 ng/ml is recommended for cancer prevention.
Vitamin D, also known as the Sunshine Vitamin, is not easy to get through diet but it can be found in fortified foods such as milk, cheese, grains and in food such as eggs, fish and fish liver oil. Supplements can provide additional vitamin D but the primary source of the vitamin is from the sun. Only 10-15 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times per week provides adequate vitamin D, however, Americans’ increasing concerns about skin cancer has led to avoidance of the sun and increased use of sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D absorption. Our strictly limited exposure to natural sunlight is thought to play a major role in vitamin D deficiency. During the winter the reduced hours of daylight make it even harder to get enough sun exposure. Some groups of people have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin D and would benefit from supplements including those that have darker skin, are taking certain medications, have some intestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s and celiac disease, are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery.
Research has shown that it is almost impossible to acquire enough vitamin D from diet alone. A supplement or adequate sun exposure is required to reach recommended amounts of vitamin D. The current recommendation is that children and adults should receive 10-15 mcg or 400-600 IU per day while adults 70 and over should receive 20 mcg or 800 IU per day. The National Osteoporosis Foundation is recommending 800-1000 IU per day with an upper limit of 2000 IU but there are concerns of possible side effects with extremely large doses, for adults, over 4000 IU daily.
While a deficiency causes serious problems, according to the Mayo Health Clinic, the health benefits of adequate amounts of vitamin D are numerous, especially in older adults. Cancer prevention, elimination of belly fat, stronger cognitive abilities and healthy bones will help you coast into old age. Getting screened for vitamin D and taking steps to ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of the vitamin can help prevent serious health issues and improve your quality of life, today and for the long-term.