Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

I am amazed at how often I find patients with low vitamin D. I do not test everyone, but about 70 percent of the people I test are either low or borderline low.

It has only been recently that the technology has made it affordable and readily available for routine clinical testing.

The classic vitamin D deficiency disease is rickets. I have never seen a case of rickets nor do I know anyone that has seen a case of rickets. The US started fortifying milk with vitamin D in the 1930s and rickets has since become a very rare problem in the US.

Vitamin D is associated with many enzymes and cells in the human body. It helps our intestines to absorb calcium and phosphorous. Some experts have called it a hormone because of the many things it can affect.

There is a growing body of research that indicates that vitamin D could affect cancer risk. It appears to protect against colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

I have frequently found vitamin D to be low in patients complaining of fatigue, depression, and body aches. There is some association with vitamin D deficiency and adult onset diabetes. We certainly think of vitamin D when we are dealing with osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Our bodies naturally make vitamin D when exposed to the sunlight. The amount of vitamin D manufactured depends on the amount of skin exposed to sunlight, time of day, and color of skin. Darker skin blocks the UVB light from penetrating as much as lighter skin.

Vitamin D is fat soluble and can become toxic if you take too much. I have personally never seen a high level of vitamin D, but it is possible. It can cause heart arrhythmias, anorexia, and weight loss.

The US government health authorities have stated that vitamin D deficiency occurs when the levels are below 30 nmol/L. I personally like to see levels above 50nmol/L. It is checked with a simple blood test.

I would recommend that you consider getting your vitamin D levels checked if you are homebound and or otherwise cannot get out in the sun. It is probably worthwhile to check your levels if you have any questions about your ability to get some sun exposure or if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. You might consider checking your levels if you are dealing with prolonged fatigue or depression.

If you are low, OTC supplements are readily available. Vitamin D3 is the best form to get. It is more easily converted to the active form of vitamin D. I routinely advise patients to take 1-3,000 units daily and often recommend higher doses if levels are low. You should monitor blood levels. I would recommend you to discuss this with your healthcare provider before starting vitamin D.

Go get some natural vitamin D, but do so with caution. Never get sunburned, and remember sun exposure can lead to skin problems, including increased risk for skin cancer.