Vitamin D: You Probably Aren’t Getting Enough

September 29, 2010 | Comments: 5 Comments

Categories: Nutrition, Science, Wellness

Osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, depression, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes; vitamin D deficiency is implicated in a diverse array of health issues and has been getting a lot of press lately.  I asked two doctors I know their opinion on the subject. 

I asked Dr. Alicia Arbaje, an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Associate Director of Transitional Care at Johns Hopkins Bayview, for her opinion on vitamin D and she believes that it living up to its press, referring to it as “the new aspirin.”  She stated that in her geriatric patients with a deficiency of  vitamin D, supplementation improves mood, muscle strength and, therefore, coordination, and can help with weight loss, particularly in post-menopausal women.  The problem is, most of us don’t get enough.  In fact, if you live north of 40º latitude (a line from approximately Sacramento to Baltimore), there isn’t enough sunlight year round for you to make all the vitamin D you need.  Not only that, but the darker a person’s skin, the more difficult it is for them to produce it.  If that weren’t bad enough, that sunscreen you wear to protect from skin cancer also prevents your body from producing vitamin D. 

The recommended dosage depends on who you ask.  The Institute of Medicine‘s current opinion is that an upper limit of 2,000 IU is safe for most people.  This is the same number suggested to me by Dr. Arbaje and also naturopath,  Dr. Lidia Tomulet.  However, most dietitians who are following older guidelines will recommend much less.  Others, like Dr.  John Jacob Cannell, executive director of The Vitamin D Council, believe that this limit is too low. 

The good news is, there are many foods that contain vitamin D and supplementation can be helpful in overcoming the deficiency.  Three ounces of wild-caught salmon has up to 794 International Units (IU), eight ounces of fortified milk has up to120 IU and one egg yolk has 20-40 IU.  Some breads and cereals are also fortified with vitamin D.

How do you know if you are deficient?  Ask your doctor to do a 25 hydroxyvitamin D3 test.  If your results are less than 20 nanograms/milileter (ng/mL), you are deficient according to Dr. Roberta Lee, Internal Medicine Specialist at BethIsraelMedicineCenter in a video for WebMD. Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means that excess can build up in your body over time and can lead to unwanted side effects including weakness, heart arrhythmia and kidney stones.

Vitamin D does interact with other chemicals in the body, so if you are taking steroidal medications, choletserol-lowering drugs, orlistat (Alli, Xenical), and some anti-seizure drugs, talk to your doctor before adding vitamin D to your daily routine.  Statins, probably including red yeast rice, can raise vitamin D levels. 

There is much more to know on this topic and if you would like more information, follow the links below or feel free to send me any questions and I will do my best to get you an answer from an expert!;=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

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5 responses to “Vitamin D: You Probably Aren’t Getting Enough”

  1. veek says:

    I've been looking for a while for the levels of vitamin D considered dangerous for an average adult. Have you found this information anywhere?

  2. Brandie says:

    There really isn't much consensus on that matter. When a person is severely deficient, they will be given 50,000 IU injections weekly until their levels return to normal. Even with that, sometimes people stay deficient for months. Dr. Cannell from the Vitamin D Council reports that an average person will make 10,000 IU of vitamin D with only 15 minutes of exposure to sun without sunblock.

    My feeling from what I've read is that it varies from person to person based on their body chemistry and the most important thing would be to get tested to see what your levels currently are then act accordingly.

  3. Brandie says:

    That is what the studies show, Sheeri. Part of the problem is that many people wear sunscreen, which blocks the production of vitamin D, or they don't have enough skin exposed.

    Here is the link to the WebMD video where that information came from: This is actually the most conservation map that I have seen. Others move the line even farther south.

  4. Brandie says:

    And veek, this is the link to the Toxicity page of the Vitamin D Council:

    On this page, he states that humans make 10,000 IU within 30 minutes of full-sun exposure, twice as long as the 15 minute time he reported in a different paper, but the overall message is the same.

  5. veek says:

    Thanks for the links and info, Brandie. I've been on the vitamin D wagon for about a year now, and have stopped taking my anxiety meds as a direct result (even had a good winter! in Boston!). I've just been wondering about the ceiling, an intake amount where vitD becomes toxic. Looks like I'm nowhere near it. Nifty.

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