D for Deficiency

A Boost in Vitamin D May Be Critical

Our evolution and existence depend on sunlight, which prompts the skin to create vitamin D. This critical nutrient doesn’t just regulate calcium and phosphorus in the body; it also helps maintain bone structure and general health.

Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D may help prevent many disorders, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks and even cancer. 

While the sun’s ultraviolet rays should provide us with more than 80 percent of our daily vitamin D requirement, over the past few decades, our exposure to sunlight has declined—perhaps because we stay inside more or tend to cover up with clothing and sunscreen. This has led to an increasing incidence of vitamin D deficiency and associated disorders. About half of all Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.

The risk of vitamin D deficiency and consequent complications increases after 60 years of age, in part because older people spend less time outdoors, are less able to generate vitamin D in their skin, do not get vitamin D in their diet and may have trouble converting vitamin to its active form because of liver or kidney damage.

The most reliable and economical way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season and time of day. For a person with lighter skin, 20 minutes without sunscreen three to four times a week is adequate for the body’s needs. People with darker skin and elderly people need longer sun exposure.

Given the logistical challenges and cancer risks associated with regular sun exposure, the role of diet and dietary supplements to boost vitamin D levels has become more important. Vitamin D is stored in the liver and in body fat and is present in small amounts in some foods, especially fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, sandiness and tuna. Sun-exposed or irradiated mushrooms are the only vegetable sources with higher amounts of vitamin D. 

Supplements are recommended for many older people and people with dark skin who live in northern areas. Most experts consider vitamin D3 superior to D2. Measuring the blood’s vitamin D level is the only reliable way to diagnose a vitamin D deficiency.  

Dr. Sunil Wimalawana is a professor of medicine and former chief of the division of endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey.

For local information about vitamin D supplements and testing, visit VitaminsRus Health Food, 15500 Panama City Beach Pkwy., Unit 420, Panama City Beach.

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