Vitamin D has often been called the "sunshine vitamin," as our bodies produce it when exposed to the sun. Doctors have long known the importance of vitamin D in helping to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus and aiding in the absorption of calcium to form and maintain bone strength. The combination of calcium and Vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. In recent years, research studies have shown that adequate amounts of vitamin D may also aid in the prevention of many other chronic conditions.
It is an important part of our nutritional needs, and unfortunately, it has been estimated that as many as 75% of Americans may be deficient. In areas such as Western New York the risk is higher, as we are often deprived of sunlight, particularly during the colder months. This past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals have spent more excessive amounts of time indoors — working remotely on computers, attending school online, playing games, watching more TV, et cetera.
To achieve the blood levels of vitamin D that can protect you against chronic disease, it is recommended that you need a minimum of 1,000 IU daily. The previous recommendations of 200 to 600 IU are now thought to be inadequate. A simple blood test can determine if you are Vitamin D deficient. Normal blood levels should be between 40 and 100 ng/ml. The level should never be below 32 ng/ml and those below 15 are considered seriously deficient.
What can you do to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D? A few minutes of sun exposure a few times a week without sunblock should not be harmful. It’s also important to eat foods rich in Vitamin D. These include fish, fortified dairy and soy milk products, eggs and codliver oil.
When sun exposure and healthy foods are not enough, a daily supplement of 1000 IU per day of vitamin D3 may be needed. In extreme deficiency cases, a weekly prescription of 50,000 IU may be given for several weeks until the Vitamin D level is again above 32 ng/ml. At your next physical, you may wish to ask your physician if you need to have your Vitamin D level tested. Depending on the results, your physician may prescribe Vitamin D supplements.
As the winter months continue, don’t forget about the benefits derived from maintaining adequate amounts of this important vitamin. It could impact your overall health and well-being.
Carolyn Moore, MS Ed., is the director of community relations for Eastern Niagara Hospital. Questions may be directed to her at 514-5505.