VITAMIN D: THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN
A lot of you have probably been reading about vitamin D in the news. Deficiency in vitamin D is being linked to an increasing number of diseases – conditions as diverse as osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and cancer. Even in sunny Southern California, we are finding that many people are deficient in this important vitamin.
Well over half of all people over 65 are vitamin D deficient. The majority of women being treated for osteoporosis with conventional medications are taking less than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D and nobody is asking them about it!
The skin’s ability to produce vitamin D decreases with age. Many elderly people are also housebound. Serious deficiencies are very common in nursing homes and during long hospital stays. Fatigue, muscles pains and fractures can easily result. Supplementation is crucial in this population. Vitamin D decreases the risk of falling and reduces hip fractures by more than a third!
While we often think of this as a problem for the elderly, vitamin D deficiency can affect even the youngest of us. Because many mothers are vitamin D deficient, their babies can also become deficient, especially if they are exclusively breastfed. Don’t get us wrong, we support breastfeeding – and exclusive breastfeeding – wholeheartedly. However, it may be prudent for moms to get tested and, if necessary, take supplements to prevent health problems in their children. While rickets (extreme vitamin D deficency) is now rare, less serious vitamin D deficiencies are not. This is especially important in darker-skinned moms or in those who get very little sun exposure. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled its recommendations for vitamin D intake for children.
Body aches, weakness and fatigue can also be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Some people with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue diagnoses may actually have osteomalacia, an adult form of more serious vitamin D deficiency. If other treatments are not helping, your vitamin D levels should be tested.
Did you know that people who are diagnosed with cancer in the summer tend to live longer than those diagnosed in the winter? It’s true! Other studies have shown that those with the lowest vitamin D levels have the worst prognosis. Vitamin D deficiency has been strongly associated with risk for many cancers, especially breast, prostate and colon cancer. Correcting a deficiency early may reduce your risk of developing cancer and appropriate testing and treatment is essential if you already have cancer.
Minimal sun exposure – without sunscreen – is certainly a good way of increasing your vitamin D. For fair-skinned people in Los Angeles, 5 minutes at noon every day can be enough to raise levels. Be careful though, any more can cause sun burns. Talk to one of the doctors about safe levels of sun exposure and safe sunblocks for you and your children.
There are few dietary sources of vitamin D. Fatty fish such as herring, wild Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, catfish and sardines are good sources and are both safe for the environment and low in mercury and other toxins. Vitamin D is also added in small doses to milk, in order to prevent rickets. Always take your vitamin D with some fat – not a problem with the fish, which contain healthy omega 3s.
For practical reasons, supplements of vitamin D may be necessary. However, a recent study showed that many over-the-counter vitamin D supplements contained as little as 9% of what they claimed on their label so talk to Dr. Au, Dr. Gastellum, Dr. Mistry, Dr. Barker or Dr. Brousseau about the best brand of supplement for you. If you have concerns about your vitamin D status, talk to us about ordering a blood test to evaluate. 626 794 4668