Vitamin D – Does it stand up to the hype?
Listening to recent news, you might think that ordinary vitamin D is the new panacea for the majority of our ills. Emerging scientific is pretty exciting, but there is plenty of notable that should not be overlooked. Here’s what you need to know about what vitamin D is, what it does, and whether it lives up to its rockstar fame.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble prohormones that facilitate the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous. There are five types of vitamin D, known cleverly as D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5. The two types that appear to be most important to humans are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
The body naturally synthesizes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and humans can also absorb vitamin D from various food sources and supplements. Most supplements contain vitamins D2 and D3.
The benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D regulates the immune system, facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphorous to help build and maintain healthy bones, and has been linked to preventing multiple sclerosis, improving mental function in the elderly, weight loss, reduce the odds of rheumatoid arthritis in women, protect against radiation, reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks, and help prevent some forms of cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency among US children
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University discovered an alarming trend. Analyzing the data from 6,000 children ages 21 and under, they found 9% of the children were vitamin D deficient, and another 61% were vitamin D insufficient. Children most at risk were older black or Mexican-American girls, who were overweight, did not drink much milk, and spent 4 hours a day or more watching TV, online, or playing video games.
The research team discovered that children with low levels of vitamin D were prone to poor bone health, lower calcium levels, high blood pressure, and low levels of HDL cholesterol, key risk factors for stroke and heart disease.
Adults at risk
Diabetics, elderly people, and people with darker skin are most at risk, especially those living in places where sunlight is limited, should take supplements or eat foods rich in vitamin D. Sunscreens negate the vitamin D process, but limited sun exposure should not result in skin damage. People with delicate skin who burn easily should also consider a supplement.
Recommended daily intake
For people with little or no sun exposure, the recommended daily allowances of Vitamin D are:
- 13 years and younger – 5 mcg
- 14-18 years – 5 mcg
- 19-50 years – 5mcg
- 51-70 years – 10 mcg
- 71+ years – 15 mcg
Perhaps the saddest commentary on the findings is that the fix is simply to go outside. Our own skin is the most efficient source of natural vitamin D, and a mere 20 minutes a day is enough for most people. Could dwindling safe areas for kids to hang out be causing a national health crisis? It’s certainly possible. The world is a dangerous place, but in our quest to keep our children safe, have we made them sick and shortened their lifespans? What do you think, and what will you advise your patients?