The Vitamin D-lemma

fortify your lifeI don’t know whether you’ve had any lab work done recently, but if you have, there’s a good chance your healthcare provider took a look at your vitamin D level. Why all the growing interest in vitamin D? Won’t a couple of glasses of milk per week and some sunlight take care of it?

Sufficient vitamin D promotes bone growth and repair and is required for our bodies to absorb calcium. Adequate calcium levels help assure bone strength. Conditions associated with low vitamin D levels include rickets, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis. Symptoms of decreased vitamin D include bone pain, muscle weakness, and fatigue. Older adults may experience symptoms of depression and cognitive impairment.

The NIH Dietary Supplements site notes that vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods. Fatty fishes such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon contain vitamin D. Tiny amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Some mushroom varieties are grown under ultraviolet light to boost their vitamin D content. Much of our vitamin D, however, is ingested from artificially fortified products such as milk, breakfast cereal, and yogurt. Ingestion of supplements and cod liver oil will also boost vitamin D levels. Patients with an abnormally low level of vitamin D may be advised to take vitamin supplements as it is difficult to obtain significant amounts of dietary vitamin D.

the vitamin D cureSun exposure causes our skin to synthesize vitamin D. During cold winter days and in smoggy conditions, sun exposure is limited, thus decreasing the body’s vitamin D creation. People who have more pigment in their skin are able to block some UV radiation – helpful in preventing sunburn, but detrimental to generating vitamin D. As we age, our skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D decreases. The use of sunscreen also blocks the initiation of vitamin D production. Patients with digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease may have decreased ability to absorb ingested vitamin D. Obesity is also be associated with decreased vitamin D levels as fat cells absorb vitamin D from the blood.

Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased susceptibility to colds, especially for those who have asthma and lung conditions. Blood cells critical to immune function have vitamin D receptors. When enough vitamin D is not present, the risk of autoimmune disease and infection increases.

Researchers have also found an association between low vitamin D levels and stroke. When vitamin D levels are insufficient, patients are at higher risk for strokes. In patients who have had strokes, the stroke is likely to be more severe if the vitamin D level is decreased. Links have also been found between poor bone health, low vitamin D level and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Much research is underway to improve our understanding of population studies indicating high rates of hypertension, obesity and glucose intolerance in patients with low vitamin D levels. Further studies are needed to increase our understanding of the significance of vitamin D levels.

[Editor’s Note: As always, please consult your physician before taking any kind of supplement. Your doctor(s) are your greatest resource for your health needs. The post above is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice.]

 

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.

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