You may have read or heard physicians now frequently test patients’ levels of vitamin D and prescribe daily supplements for people with low numbers. But why? What’s different about vitamin D from other vitamins and minerals you absorb just by eating a healthy and varied diet?
Many healthcare providers, including several at Holy Redeemer, are now focused on treating patients and helping them maintain wellness through integrative medicine. This approach focuses on the whole person and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and professions to achieve optimal health and healing.
Examining nutrient and hormone deficiencies (or excesses) is an important technique in integrative medicine. Diagnosing and treating a deficiency – in this case vitamin D – can help ease a patient’s symptoms and sometimes slow or reverse potential damage to his or her health.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about vitamin D.
What exactly is vitamin D, and where does it come from?
Vitamin D – a nutrient your body needs to stay healthy – is produced by your body when you expose your skin to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. You can also get lesser amounts of vitamin D through food or supplements. Your liver changes vitamin D into an activated chemical that regulates calcium in your blood, bones and digestive system as well as helps cells throughout your body communicate.
Why is it important?
Vitamin D plays an important role in helping you maintain strong bones because you need it to absorb the bone-building minerals calcium and phosphorus. In various studies, vitamin D has also been linked to a person’s immune system, muscle and cardiovascular functions; respiratory health; brain development; breast health; and cancer-fighting abilities.
Why are so many people deficient?
Research has shown up to 75 percent of people are vitamin D deficient. There are several theories as to what’s behind this – but one linked to another major health initiative stands out. For many years now, physicians and researchers have linked potentially deadly skin cancers to sun (UV) exposure and have advised people to wear high SPF sunscreens and protective clothing, avoid the sun at peak hours and stay away from tanning beds. While this is effective advice for cancer prevention, it also means many people’s sun exposure – and subsequent vitamin D production – has dropped drastically.
What’s so bad about having low levels?
Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to breast, colon and prostate cancer; heart disease; depression; and a variety of other serious conditions.
Can you get enough vitamin D from food?
There are only a few foods that naturally contain any vitamin D – like fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), some mushrooms, fortified milk or cereal, egg yolks and beef liver – though you’d have to eat a lot of these foods to absorb even a moderate level of the vitamin.
So how can you stay sun safe and increase your vitamin D?
Talk to your physician about vitamin D supplements. Though they are available over the counter, it’s a good idea to find out just how much you should be taking for your age and body size, as well as if you have any medical conditions that might prohibit you from taking the vitamin. Too much vitamin D can be as harmful as too little, so it’s important not to take higher-than-recommended doses.
Your physician might also recommend small doses of sunshine, maybe 15 minutes a day, before you apply sunscreen. While you don’t want to risk a sunburn – and the skin damage and cancer risks that come with it – it’s still the most effective way to get enough vitamin D.