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Sharp Health News

Low vitamin D can mean trouble

Dec. 23, 2015

Vitamin D

Roughly half of all Americans — older adults in particular — don’t get enough vitamin D, which comes primarily from exposure to the sun’s rays, food or supplements. This nutrient is essential to keeping our muscles, bones and immune systems strong.

Vitamin D helps form and strengthen bones by allowing the body to absorb calcium. Without adequate vitamin D, bones become thin and brittle. The vitamin also helps our muscles and immune system function.

What causes low levels of vitamin D?

“Certain factors may limit your ability to obtain vitamin D through sunshine absorption, including seasonal conditions and use of sunblock,” says Gay Bonilla, RD, CNSD, an advanced practitioner and dietitian at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

“Individuals with lighter skin are able to absorb vitamin D more easily and quickly through sun exposure compared to darker-skinned individuals,” she says. “In addition, vitamin D from food or supplements may be difficult to absorb due to conditions such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, fat malabsorption syndromes or bariatric surgery. Use of anticonvulsant or antiretroviral medications can also reduce vitamin D absorption. And recent studies show a link between obesity and lower vitamin D levels.”

Ensuring you get enough

The National Institutes of Health currently recommends that healthy people get the following amounts of vitamin D each day:

  • Children and adults ages 70 and younger: 600 international units (IU)
  • Adults ages 71 and older: 800 IU

Bonilla recommends the following tips to ensure you are getting your daily requirement of vitamin D:

  • Eat foods that contain a natural source of vitamin D, such as eggs, mackerel, salmon, canned tuna, and dairy, almond and soy products fortified with vitamin D.
  • Have your blood level of vitamin D checked by your doctor if you’re worried that you aren't getting enough.
  • Take a vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement to meet the daily goal if your dietary vitamin D and sun exposure is limited.
  • While sunblock is vital for protection against skin cancer, sunburn and sun damage, allow about 10 minutes of sunblock-free sunshine daily for those with light skin, or 20 minutes for those with dark skin.
This story was updated in April, 2016 to remove information linking vitamin D deficiency with certain medical conditions, reflecting the most recent medical research on this topic. 

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