Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been all the buzz in natural health circles for some time. According to recent news reports, Vitamin D deficiencies are hugely prevalent among American adults and children, and are associated with everything from type 2 diabetes and rickets to osteoporosis and lung disease. Of grave concern is how widespread deficiencies may be in our population. A groundbreaking study published last year found that as many as 59 percent of the population may be deficient in Vitamin D. So, let's look at few basic questions to sort out the information.

What is Vitamin D? Vitamin D is not technically a vitamin but rather a secosteriod hormone that helps build strong bones and teeth, and is essential for maintaining hormonal balance and a healthy immune system. It helps to regulate calcium metabolism and is synthesized when UVB rays from the sun are absorbed through the skin.

Why is it such a problem in modern society? Scientists are wary about pointing the finger at the cause of Vitamin D deficiency, but many agree that consistent use of 15 SPF or higher sunscreen, which blocks out the skin's Vitamin D production by 99 percent, may be to blame. Diet provides only a small clue, as there are few foods that we consume that are naturally rich in Vitamin D, including sardines, salmon, shrimp, cod, and eggs.

In addition to sunscreen use our indoor lifestyle, particularly for those in less sunny climes, may also be a significant factor. For those living in the northern US, the "region above latitude 40 (a horizontal line that runs from just below New York City west to northern California), then the sun is only strong enough between May and September to trigger the vitamin D conversion (or the converse in the Southern Hemisphere). This means that a large percentage of the population is at significant risk much of the year for vitamin D deficiency."

How do you know if you are Vitamin D deficient? The only way to know, according to the VitaminD Council, is to "get a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, also called a 25(OH)D. Levels should be above 50 ng/ml (125 nmol/L) year-round, in both children and adults." These levels are important from infancy through the lifespan and may vary and menopause are advised to increase Vitamin D intake to prevent bone loss.

How do we get enough Vitamin D? While some dairy products and even juices are fortified with Vitamin D, the current recommended levels of consumption are way above what you could ingest daily of these beverages. Even Vitamin D rich foods may not provide enough for the new higher recommendations for daily intake. New guidelines suggest anywhere from 600IU daily for adults to as much as 2,oooIU or more, through supplementation. In addition, it is recommended that we spend at least 15 minutes in the early morning or late afternoon sun each day, twice a day, without sunscreen to help Vitamin D production in the body (longer for darker skin tones).

What about Vitamin D and breastfeeding? Not all babies are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency, especially if they are exposed to natural sunlight and if the nursing mom has adequate Vitamin D levels. For a great discussion of this important topic, visit

As the research continues to mount, adding a quality Vitamin D supplement to our diets seems wise if we do indeed have an insufficient amount. Eating a diet of whole foods and getting outdoors in early or late day sunshine are also great choices for wellness!

1 comment:

  1. Reading this makes me wonder if my 'seasonal depression' may actually have more to do with Vitamin D. I live in NJ and have a very hard time in the winter, but thrive in the summer. Thanks for bringing up this topic.


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