Vitamin D Deficiency: What Is Vitamin D, How Much Do I Need, and Why Do I Need It?
Recent media attention has focused on widespread reports of Vitamin D deficiency. Studies indicate that up to 40% of the U.S. population are thought to be vitamin D deficient. To my surprise, I too fall into the deficient category. If it can happen to me as a nurse and wellness advocate, it could happen to anyone! Because the symptoms are vague, it often goes unchecked. The consequences of going undetected are startling. Researchers are now learning that vitamin D plays an integral role in preventing, and/or contributing to, many diseases and conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chronic fatigue
The Sunshine Vitamin
With so many different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, understanding each one can be confusing, and even overwhelming. Vitamin D is unique, because it is a vitamin and a hormone. Often called the "Sunshine Vitamin," the skin produces vitamin D when directly exposed to the ultraviolet radiation of natural sunlight. This does not happen when the suns rays pass through glass or while wearing sunscreen.
Vitamin D is mainly found in two forms, vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol (found in food), and vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol (generated by the sun). Muscles need vitamin D to move, and nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and the body. This accounts for why deficiencies can cause muscle pain and weakness, along with nerve pain.
The Calcium-Vitamin D-Magnesium Connection
A balance of vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium are necessary for optimum absorption. Magnesium is needed to convert vitamin D into its active form in the blood. This can also lead to magnesium deficiency if vitamin D is supplemented without also supplementing magnesium.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones because it helps the body use calcium from the diet. It helps maintain the level of calcium and potassium in the body by facilitating their absorption. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium, making calcium supplements useless. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it must be eaten with some fat to be properly absorbed.
Fun In the Sun
The most common cause of vitamin D deficiency is not getting enough direct sunlight. Variables such as the season, time of day, latitude, air pollution, cloud cover, sunscreen, lack of skin exposure, skin color, and age, all affect the skin's ability to produce vitamin D, which makes the sun an unreliable source.
The risk of skin cancer has reduced the amount of time people spend uncovered in the sun and increased the use of sunscreens, which block both the harmful and beneficial effects of the sun. Even weak sunscreens such as SPF-8, can block your body's ability to generate vitamin D by up to 95%.
Moderation is the key, while some sun is essential to good health, too much can be harmful. The most common recommendation from physicians is ten to 15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) on your arms and legs daily. If staying out longer, applying sunscreen or covering up is recommend, as prolonged, unprotected sun exposure increases the risk for skin cancer.
Vitamin D in Foods
While you can get vitamin D from your diet, it is nearly impossible to get enough. To get the minimum level into ones diet, a person would have to drink ten tall glasses of vitamin D fortified milk daily. Vitamin D rich foods, such as milk and fortified dairy and grain products, egg yolk, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, cod liver oil, soy, seaweed, broccoli, mustard, molasses, cane sugar, legumes, beans, almonds and oranges, are often not consumed in an adequate quantity to meet dietary needs. Including these vitamin D rich foods in your daily diet, along with sufficient exposure to sunlight, can help prevent deficiency.
Contributing Risk Factors
- Conditions such as Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and colitis
- Kidney disease or liver damage
- Large size, or obesity, BMI of >30
- Certain medications
- Magnesium deficiency
- Low cholesterol levels
- Very low-fat diet
- Very dark skin
- Living far from the equator
- Age over 50
It is noted that older adults need even more vitamin D because as people age, their kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D into its active form, they often spend less time outdoors uncovered, and they tend to not meet their needs through nutrition. The Institute of Medicine recommends how much vitamin D and calcium people should get, based on bone health.
Vitamin D Recommendations
- Adults < age 69 - 600 IU/day
- Adults > age 70 - 800 IU/day
- The DV (daily value) for vitamin D is currently set at 400 IU by the FDA, which is less than the recommended - 600 IU.
- "Tolerable upper limit" - 4,000 IU "or the maximum amount that is safe to consume daily."
However many researchers believe this is still too low and does not do enough to address the chronic vitamin D deficiencies being reported. The Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines published recommendations for the evaluation, treatment, and prevention of vitamin D recommending an upper limit of 10,000 IU/day.
Vitamin D deficiency can be reversed, but it takes a simple blood test to tell you if you are deficient. Ask your doctor to test your level, so you can know if you are deficient in vitamin D. With this knowledge, you can start an appropriate supplementation and sun exposure regimen to build back the body's vital supply.
"Wellness Matters" Article Series by Lisa Schilling RN, BSN, CPT
Speaker, Writer, Wellness Coach & Consultant
Speaker, Writer, Wellness Coach & Consultant
Lisa Schilling is the author of "The Get REAL Guide to Health and Fitness-FIVE STEPS to Create Your Own Personal Wellness Plan." She juggles life as a doting wife and the mother of three boys, who keep her feet firmly planted on the ground!
Lisa is a Registered Nurse, author and recovering pageant queen, who spreads hope with her Get REAL approach to wellness. She empowers women, caregivers and groups to unleash their fullest potential by helping them to see their true beauty and discover their REAL value.
As an outspoken advocate for wellness and prevention, her motto is: "See one, do one, teach one!" Visit Lisa's websitehttp://www.getrealwellnesssolutions.com to claim your FREE Bonus Gifts!
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