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Home : News : News
NEWS | June 17, 2011

Vitamin D offers health benefits

By Maj. Paul Ward and Maj. Gwen Kaegy 559th Medical Group

Vitamin D levels have been on the decline in America, sparking a flurry of
media attention. Although many assume we don't need to worry about Vitamin D,
there is reason to believe we do indeed need to be concerned.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin produced by our body. Exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet light) prompts our skin to produce Vitamin D with the help of the liver and kidneys to a molecule the body uses to help absorb calcium to build and strengthen bones. Additionally, Vitamin D decreases inflammation, moderates muscle nerve conduction
and controls overgrowth, undergrowth, and the death of cells. In other words, it is a powerful antioxidant.

Recent research has found optimal Vitamin D levels contribute to healthy heart conduction, immune system support and cardiovascular disease prevention.Additionally, Vitamin D has been found to be effective in the treatment and prevention of
type I and II diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a disease called rickets was a serious health
threat to American children. The U.S. government ordered fortification of all dairy
milk in 1930 with Vitamin D. Prior to this change, children received a daily dose of cod
liver oil, which remains the greatest dietary source of Vitamin D today.

Several groups are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D levels are obtained
with a blood test that shows levels in the blood. Tests have found breast-fed infants do not receive an adequate amount of Vitamin D and so most pediatricians prescribe
Vitamin D drops. In adults, a condition called osteomalacia (a softening of
bone tissue) can occur if Vitamin D levels get too low.

In the elderly, a condition called osteoporosis can occur, causing bone changes
leading to easier bone fractures. Because older adult skin does not make Vitamin D as
effectively as youthful counterparts, primary care providers may recommend as much as
400 IU to 2,000 IU to be taken daily.

People with limited sunlight exposure and dark skin are also at risk. The presence of melanin in skin makes it darker and interferes with ultraviolet light absorption. Sunscreen also blocks ultraviolet light.

People who have undergone gastric bypass have an altered digestive track that
limits fat absorption, which places them at a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency.

Finally, obese people with a body mass index greater than 30 have a higher amount of fat that interferes with the release of stored Vitamin D supplies. These groups are at risk for low levels of Vitamin D should seek a blood test to determine any insufficiency.

As little as 15 to 20 minutes a day of direct sunlight exposure while wearing a short-sleeve shirt and shorts is needed for adequate Vitamin D production. Sunlight through glass or clouds does not produce sufficient exposure.

Foods high in Vitamin D are cod liver oil, salmon (sockeye), mackerel, tuna fish, milk and other foods fortified with Vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements have the potential to interact with several types of medications. If
you are taking steroids, weight loss, antiseizure or cholesterol-lowering medications, consult your health care provider before starting Vitamin D supplements.

The amount of Vitamin D supplementation in a completely healthy adult eating a
healthy diet is a matter under review. For maximal benefit, Vitamin D3 is recommended. In caution, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means excessive amounts can be harmful. Always consult your primary care provider prior to starting Vitamin D supplements.

For additional information, consult the National Institute of Health Website at