Giving vitamin D its due

Friday, October 3, 2008

Poor little vitamin D, chugging along quietly in the background, helping us absorb calcium and strengthening our bones, while his better known siblings, like C, E and B12 get all the press.

Until I was diagnosed with a vitamin D shortage, I never really gave too much thought to what this vitamin does and why it’s important. I am one of those rare people who despise being in the sun – and it’s the sun that causes the body to produce vitamin D - so this diagnosis really came as no surprise to me, or to Mr. Jelly Belly, the great outdoorsman, who laughed when he heard about it.

The main job of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. It aids in the absorption of calcium and may provide protection from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and several autoimmune diseases.

Other than exposure to sunlight (10-15 minutes twice a week – without sunscreen – should be adequate), vitamin D can be found in foods such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, cheese, yogurt and cod liver oil. Cod liver oil? Yeah, that’s what they said, but I have to seriously question whether anyone actually ingests that stuff.

Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiencies and depression, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This could be good news for people who would like to get off the Prozac and supplement their vitamin D instead.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets (skeletal deformities found in children) and osteomalacia (weak bones and muscular weakness, found in adults).

People who may be at risk for vitamin D deficiencies include the elderly, obese individuals, infants who are exclusively breastfed and those who have limited sun exposure. Individuals who have fat malabsorption syndromes, such as cystic fibrosis, or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease) are also at risk.

The problem with supplementing vitamin D is that it’s possible to get too much – something that’s unlikely to happen from food sources or sun exposure. Too much vitamin D in your system can lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness and weight loss. Now some of those don’t sound all too bad (I kid, I kid), but it can also cause more serious problems like confusion and changes in heart rhythm due to the raised levels of calcium in the blood.

So how much vitamin D is enough – and how much is too much?

There has been some research indicating the current recommendation of 200 IU’s per day for people under 50 and up to 600 IU’s for those over 50 may not be enough for most people and that 800–1000 IU’s may be more beneficial. As a general rule, you should never supplement more than 2000 IU’s per day.

And you probably shouldn’t supplement at all unless you know for sure you are deficient. This can be determined through a simple blood test.

So get out in the sun, enjoy it, and produce yourself some vitamin D. Your bones will thank you.


Cyndi said...

I guess I should stop being annoyed by our daily visits to the dog park and look on them as vitamin D production. You are such a wealth of useful information.

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

See? You just knew there was a reason you got that darn dog. :)

Tanya said...

I learn something new every single time I come here! You are a wealth of info, my friend!