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Published on May 07, 2015

The Importance of Vitamin D for You and Your Family

Vitamin D is one of the most talked about nutrients these days thanks in part to more research and studies emerging about it.

Though the research is ongoing, many studies are claiming vitamin D has the ability to reduce the risk of an array of serious health conditions. But this nutrient’s main job has to do with bone health.

“Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut. This helps maintain adequate levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood for normal mineralization of bone. It’s also needed for bone ‘maintenance,’ such as growth and remodeling,” said Dr. Carrie Bender, an Abington physician who specializes in family medicine at Ambler Medical Associates.

Health and fitness imageBasically, children need vitamin D to help build strong bones and adults need it to keep bones strong and healthy. Further, this nutrient helps prevent rickets in children, which Dr. Bender said is a “defective mineralization of bones, which can cause skeletal deformities, muscle spasms, dental problems and weakness.”

Despite the essential role vitamin D plays in our bodies, an estimated 40 to 75 percent of people have a vitamin deficiency. That can be due, in part, to not eating a diet complete with food sources containing vitamin D, not spending enough time outside in the sunlight or not taking supplements.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who are partially or exclusively breastfed should be supplemented with 400IU of vitamin D daily. Recommendations for adults can vary from 400IU to 2,000IU daily based on their current vitamin D level, intake, sun exposure and skin tone, and supplement use, Dr. Bender said.

As an adult, not getting enough vitamin D may lead to bone loss, lower bone density and a high risk of breaking bones as you age.

“Without vitamin D, bones can be misshapen, brittle and thin,” Dr. Bender said.

So how can you be sure you’re getting enough vitamin D?

The majority, or 80 to 90 percent, of the vitamin D the body gets is obtained through exposure to sunlight.

“UVB rays penetrate uncovered skin and are converted into vitamin D,” Dr. Bender said. Your body is able to store vitamin D in your skin and use it later. The amount your skin makes depends on what time of the day it is, your skin pigmentation, where you live and the use of sunscreen or sunblock. Because of the risk of skin cancer, many people try to stay out of the sun, cover up when outside and use sunscreens to protect their skin. While this does protect skin from skin cancer, it also limits your skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Even a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 can reduce your production of vitamin D by 95 percent. Because of this, many people rely on other sources for vitamin D, including foods rich in the nutrient and supplements.

When it comes to food sources, salmon, mackerel, tuna, fish liver oils, beef liver, egg yolks and cheese all contain vitamin D, according to Dr. Bender. Many foods, like cereals, yogurt and certain brands of orange juice, are fortified with vitamin D.

And if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D through those sources, you may need a dietary supplement.

“Vitamin D can be found in two forms: D2 and D3, which are equal in potency at lower levels, but D2 is less potent at higher levels,” Dr. Bender said. But, overall, both are good for bone health.

Some people may need blood tests to confirm whether they’re getting enough vitamin D.

“For certain people with chronic illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it becomes important to periodically check to ensure their vitamin D levels are within a normal limit as it is absorbed through the gut,” she said.

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