How to Combat Vitamin D Deficiency

Nutrition / February 2, 2010

An estimated 65-95% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to osteoporosis, type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders, various types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, poor muscle strength and depression.

Safe sun exposure is the fastest way to replenish your vitamin D on a regular basis. In order to get enough vitamin D from exposure to the sun, you need to be out in the sun for an estimated 15-30 minutes without sunscreen three times per week. If your skin is darker toned, this estimate may need to be increased, check with your dermatologist to determine safe exposure times.

During the winter months, or seasons when the sun isn’t available, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Check with your health care provider or nutritionist to determine how much is right for you. Current recommendations run between 1000 and 2000 units per day.

For more information on vitamin D deficiency, watch this video:

Video Transcription

Vitamin D has gotten a lot of attention lately. We recognized many years ago that vitamin D comes from sunlight hitting the skin, and the skin converts the sunlight into an active vitamin D. Now originally we thought, okay, vitamin D helps to absorb calcium, and it’s important so that people don’t get osteoporosis.

Now we’re beginning to appreciate that vitamin D has a million other things going on. It’s a very active hormone in the body, and it’s responsible for growth of cells throughout the body. So now we appreciate that vitamin D deficiencies can lead to prostate cancer, colon cancer, probably lung cancer, multiple sclerosis.

All sorts of autoimmune diseases can be made worse when there’s low vitamin D. There are just a number of things, including cardiovascular effects, blood pressure, heart disease. So we now are beginning to take a totally different look at vitamin D.

Now, how do we get vitamin D? You get it from food. You get it from sunlight. Well, in food, you’re talking milk, you’re talking oily fish. You’d need about 20 glasses of milk in order to get 2000 units of vitamin D a day. If you’re in the sun for about 15 minutes without sunblock, you can get about 10,000 units of vitamin D.

So it turns out that people really north of the Mason-Dixon Line become very vitamin D deficient during the winter months. And, in fact, some of the original studies were done in the Boston area, where vitamin D levels were established to be 20 as normal. Now we’re beginning to think of 50 as normal.

And a lot of people are beginning to think that people need about 2000 units of vitamin D per day, especially during the winter months when we get very little sun exposure. Of course, we try to avoid sun exposure because of skin cancer risk.

So most people now really have to start thinking about taking vitamin D and specifically vitamin D3 supplements. And I would say that 1000 units of vitamin D3 is safe for virtually everyone and probably 2000. Many serious researchers are beginning to come up with 2000 as the legitimate number for adults.

I think that we do have to avoid skin cancer, and we do need to use sunblock. So I don’t think we’re going to get it from food. I don’t think we’re going to get it from sun. So I think vitamin D3 is becoming a very important issue, and we can monitor it in the bloodstream and actually see where the levels are.

In my practice, I’m finding that almost 90 percent of all individuals are low in vitamin D when we check their blood. And in people with dark skin, African-Americans, it’s even lower because the skin does not convert the sunlight into vitamin D3 easily in dark-skinned individuals.

So this is a really critical issue that is starting to gain prominence in the national media and the sooner the better.

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