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The Sunny Side of Vitamin D...for You and Your Baby

An estimated 75 percent of the American population – adults and children – may not be getting an enough vitamin D to reap all of its benefits*.

Vitamin D, which most people get through sun exposure and some foods, is best known for helping the body absorb calcium and build strong bones. We’re mostly familiar with the importance of vitamin D in protecting against osteoporosis (weak bones) later in life. It also helps to prevent rickets (soft or misshapen bones) in infants and children and osteomalacia (weak bones and muscles) in adults.

Researchers are now finding growing evidence that its health benefits may extend beyond the skeletal system by:

  • Improving heart health. A team of Harvard University scientists discovered men with higher levels of vitamin D were less likely to have heart attacks.
  • Reducing diabetes risk. Adequate vitamin D intake may prevent or delay the onset of diabetes, and it may reduce complications for those who have it already.**
  • Controlling muscle weakness/pain. Higher levels of vitamin D may help reduce muscle pain. Preliminary research also suggests long-term vitamin D supplementation may decrease the risk of multiple sclerosis.***

Researchers are also testing vitamin D to determine if it offers protection against cancer and inflammation.

“While there is still more evidence needed to validate these findings, there is plenty of evidence to support the importance of this vitamin for our bone health,” said Prathima Chaloori, MD, Primary Care Physician at New England Medical Group. “Seasonal changes and where someone lives can make it challenging to get the recommended sun exposure of 10 minutes a day before applying sunscreen. In fact, people who live in colder climates and spend a lot of time indoors are at greater risk for low levels of vitamin D as diet alone is unlikely to yield these levels.  “To make sure you are getting enough vitamin D, speak with your doctor.”

Dealing with D Deficiency

If your doctor says you are deficient in vitamin D, it is easy to get more of this nutrient by increasing your daily sun intake and changing your diet to include foods such as cod liver oil, salmon, fortified cereals and milk, and eggs. Your doctor may also recommend that you take a dietary supplement. Vitamin D is generally well-tolerated by healthy children and adults in recommended doses (see chart). However, regularly taking too much vitamin D could result in nausea, vomiting, constipation or impaired kidney function.

“Vitamin D levels are equally important for a child’s development and lifetime health starting even before birth,” said Hannah Galvin, MD. "There are many factors that may affect whether levels are sufficient: maternal vitamin D deficiency, premature birth, skin pigmentation, sun exposure, exclusive breastfeeding or formula intake of less than 32 oz/day, childhood eating habits, chronic health problems, and certain medications. It's very important that parents speak with their child's doctor and their own doctor about their health habits. It is easy to get more of this nutrient if you need it."

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

If you suspect that you or your children aren’t getting enough vitamin D, or perhaps are getting too much, speak with your primary care physician and their pediatrician. It is always wise to speak with your physician about the dose that would be right for you.

The following dosages of vitamin D are recommended:

Infants, children and adolescents   10 mcg / 400 IU
Adults 19 to 50, including pregnant and breastfeeding women  200 mcg / 200 IU
Adults 51 to 70 10 mcg / 400 IU
Adults 71+ 15 mcg / 600 IU 

 

* Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 23, 2009.
** Source: The Diabetes Educator,Vol. 34, Number 6.
*** Source: Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com.

 




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