Should we take Extra Vitamin D?

What you should know:
Vitamin D is extremely important for your bone health. Vitamin D increases your body's ability to absorb calcium, a mineral that builds our bones. Without enough vitamin D, our bones can become brittle, thin or misshapen.

If you are like most people, most of your Vitamin D results from sunlight -- ultraviolet rays (UV rays). Some people do not have many opportunities to absorb vitamin D from sun exposure. They are often inactive people in nursing homes, people with very dark skin, and people who cover up with dark clothing. People who work indoors at night and sleep during the day are also at risk. Very heavy people with a lot of fat under their skin also have a problem absorbing enough vitamin D from the sun. Sunscreens (used to prevent burns, melanoma skin cancer, & moles) can also block out rays that help to build bones.

Diet can also affect your level of vitamin D. People with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, and vegans & vegetarians might lack enough vitamin D in their diets. People who have had gastric bypass surgery are also at risk.

Women who breast feed might need a vitamin D supplement for themselves and their babies. Many people do not get enough vitamin D from UV light or food alone. Thus our government wisely started requiring dairies to add vitamin D to milk in the 1930s. This action made rickets, a damaging bone condition, rare. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, & tuna), cod liver oil, and orange juice, milk and yogurt fortified with vitamin D. Many cereals also include supplemental vitamin D and are eaten with milk.

Research shows that over one-third of the U.S. takes a dietary supplement containing vitamin D, especially older women who are at higher risk of osteoporosis.

A blood test can check the concentration of vitamin D in the blood. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is 600 IU (15mcg) for people from age 1 to age 70.
The RDA increases to 800 units for those over 70. There is growing evidence that a specific form of vitamin D (D3 known also as cholecalciferol) taken with calcium is effective in preventing bone loss and breaks.

Vitamin D seems to be of increasing interest to health researchers. Some experts think vitamin D could be the new wonder vitamin. Many scientists think vitamin D could help attack many problems beyond low bone density and osteoporosis. There are now many studies looking at the effects of vitamin D on other conditions and diseases. These include inflammation, cancer, heart disease, blood pressure, falls, fractures, the immune system, skin problems such as psoriasis & multiple sclerosis.

It is extremely rare to get too much vitamin D. Foods fortified with vitamin D do not contain large amounts. Your body also keeps you from processing too much vitamin D from the sun. Supplements at your drugstore are usually sold in 400 to 1000 units of vitamin D3 or D2. Research has shown that less than 4,000 units per day are probably safe.

Certain people are at greater risk of getting too much vitamin D or too much vitamin D in combination with calcium. Specific health problems such as liver or kidney disease, kidney stones, and certain diuretics and epilepsy drugs can put you at greater risk.

What you should do:
Consume fatty fishes & fish oils, like salmon, mackerel, and cod liver oil, and vitamin D-fortified dairy products & juices.

Ask your doctor if you should be taking supplemental doses of vitamin D with calcium as part of a plan to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Be sure to mention any vitamins and supplements you are taking when you have your medical checkups.

Ask your doctor if vitamin D supplements might interact with your medications. You might need more or less vitamin D depending on your medicine. Calcium absorption might be affected by steroids, certain weight loss & cholesterol lowering drugs that reduce the absorption of vitamin D, & Dilantin for seizures.

Do not decide alone to take megadoses of vitamin D. See your doctor first to find out how much is right for you. While vitamin D and calcium have been approved as good supplements to build bones, vitamin D has not been proved to help a lot of other conditions. Large doses could lead to problems like kidney stones and too much calcium in your blood.

The Commercial Appeal
3 October 2011