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Got Sunshine?

Take a new look at vitamin D

By Linda Pourmassina, MD, Internal Medicine, The Polyclinic

If you thought bone fractures were the only risk of vitamin D deficiency, think again. It is well known that vitamin D is needed to process nutrients like calcium and phosphorus – essential for maintaining healthy bones and muscles. But research suggests that an insufficient amount of vitamin D in the body may also play a role in a multitude of serious medical conditions, from colon cancer to multiple sclerosis.*

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers are also looking at how vitamin D may help in decreasing the risk of many chronic illnesses, including common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular disease.**

Where do people get vitamin D?

  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Foods such as oily fish, like salmon and tuna
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like milk
  • Dietary supplements

Why do some people have vitamin D deficiencies?
The body stores vitamin D in fat cells and releases it as needed. With most people working indoors, many people are not getting sufficient stores of vitamin D from sunlight alone. Many diets do not include enough fish and fortified foods, exacerbating the problem. Plus, research suggests that previously recommended doses of vitamin D supplements may not be adequate.

Those at greatest risk include the elderly, postmenopausal women, and people with darker skin.  Also, people who work indoors or live in gray climates may not be getting sufficient stores of vitamin D from sunlight alone.

How do I know if I’m getting enough vitamin D?
If your doctor suspects you have a vitamin D deficiency, he or she may recommend a simple blood test to check your level.  If you have concerns, talk to your doctor.

What do I do if I learn I’m vitamin D deficient?
If testing reveals an insufficient level of vitamin D, the solution needs to be worked out between you and your doctor. Remedies may include a change in diet, the use of dietary supplements, or a combination of the two. Any increase in exposure to sunlight should be discussed with your doctor due to the risks of skin cancer. Decisions about whether or not to take supplements, what kind, and how much will depend on factors such as one’s age, lifestyle, eating habits, overall health, and the presence of any medical conditions.

* Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health
**”Vitamin D Deficiency,” New England Journal of Medicine, July 24, 2007, Michael F. Holick, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, physiology and
dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine