The importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a global health concern affecting about 40 percent of the world’s population (77% in the USA). The health factors that follow decreased vitamin D levels call for more recognition of the harmful effects a deficiency can have on the body.
“Three years ago, the Institute of Medicine concluded that having too-low blood levels of vitamin D created a health risk, particularly as we age when fracture and fall risks increase,” said Mellissa Smith, Laboratory Administrative Director at Jersey Shore Hospital.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food, strengthening the bones. The nutrient is found naturally in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and in small amounts in mushrooms, cheese, and egg yolks. The other natural source for Vitamin D is sunshine, which causes the body to make Vitamin D.
Factors that influence deficiency are limited sun exposure (inherent in living north of Atlanta); obesity; those having gastric bypass; those with dark-skin; and older adults.
Foods that are naturally high in Vitamin D are fish such as trout, salmon and swordfish, and mushrooms. Whole grain cereals, tofu, caviar, pork, and eggs have moderate levels of Vitamin D as well. Milk and orange juices are supplemented with Vitamin D, however, the vast majority of the Vitamin D in our bodies is created in the skin with the help of UV light from the sun. But as skin ages it is less and less able to make vitamin D from the sun, so vitamin D has to be attained from foods or supplements.
Osteoporosis is the most commonly thought-of side effect recognized with vitamin D deficiency in the United States; however, absence of the vitamin can also play a part in the development of heart disease, some cancers, multiple sclerosis, depression, obesity, a weakened immune system, and higher rates of cognitive decline in the elderly.
The rising awareness of Vitamin D deficiency has the National Institutes of Health in the process of establishing a standardized approach for Vitamin D testing to improve detection and treatment. The goal is to avoid inaccurate diagnosis, keeping patients away from unnecessary treatments, testing, and supplementation.
Evaluations to determine if patients are Vitamin D deficient include a laboratory blood test called 25-OH Vitamin D. Evaluations required by doctors are often covered by health insurance, but testing that is not considered medically necessary may result in unforeseen costs. Patients suggested for vitamin D evaluations should fully understand the reasoning and necessity to avoid any unneeded costs or further testing.
It is also important to understand that Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in the body, which means you need to eat fat to absorb it. The current U.S. DV (Daily Value) for vitamin D is 600 IU (international units). Large amounts of Vitamin D supplements can be toxic, if not monitored by your physician. Consult your Physician or Registered Dietitian about appropriate vitamin supplementation.