The Importance of Vitamin D
By: Dr. Robert Verghese and Dr. Neil Jaddou
In Michigan, being indoors for most of the year exposes us to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is known as “that vitamin we get from the sun." A deficiency of vitamin D can affect people of all ages. Recent medical studies are also showing the growing importance of this often deficient nutrient.
Vitamin D is essential to our bodies because it assists in the uptake of calcium from our diet through the intestines. Calcium and vitamin D are needed to keep our bones strong and healthy so that we have more energy and less pain. We produce vitamin D mainly through the skin when it contacts sunlight. Also fortified milk whether regular, low fat, or skim milk contains a similar amount of vitamin D. Other vitamin D sources include eggs, cheese, yogurt, salmon, and tuna.
When a patient is experiencing vitamin D deficiency he or she may not have symptoms. However, some patients may experience fatigue, muscle pain, bone pain (such as back pain), hair loss or thinning, and depression. Vitamin D levels can be checked with a simple blood test. Chronic cases of vitamin D and calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis.
So how do we end up being vitamin D deficient? Although many medical problems can cause a deficiency, the main problem is that patients are unable to get enough sunlight. However, do not overexpose yourself to the sun because dietary supplementation can work just as well. Dietary reasons and problems with your intestines can also lead to a deficiency. If you are a vegan, you may be more prone to vitamin D deficiency because of your diet's lack of intake. The intestines are where most of our vitamin D is absorbed and transported throughout the body. If you have a chronic disease that affects your intestines (such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease) or have had any major surgery on your bowel, this can also affect the levels of vitamin D in your body negatively. Obesity has also been associated with vitamin D deficiency.
To combat vitamin D deficiency, all that is required is to get the proper amount of sunlight and supplement your diet with vitamin D-rich foods such as dairy products and fish. The recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D are 400–600 IU per day. Taking about 2000 IU of Vitamin D a day may be enough to treat your deficiency. We sometimes give a prescription of 50,000 IU, one pill a week for the first three months, to get a head start.
Vitamin D in modern medicine is turning out to have a much bigger impact than first thought. Studies on vitamin D’s effects on diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and cancer are still ongoing, but vitamin D deficiency should not be ignored, and more benefits of this vitamin are being discovered every day.
Dr. Robert Verghese is a medical extern at Dr. Jaddou’s office.