Community Home & Style Your Views — 07 October 2010

By now youve probably heard about the benefits of Vitamin D. Its always been in fortified milk, but lately its become a craze. 

Unlike some fads, though, theres real science at work here. Vitamin D is crucial for good health, and most people would benefit from supplementation. It increases absorption of calcium and phosphorus to build our bones. It improves muscle strength and improves the immune system. If your blood levels are too low, you are at increased risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with congestive heart failure.

WHERE IS THE SUN?

Human beings get some Vitamin D from foods, but most of it comes from sunlight. The problem is were not outside enough anymore. Cavemen didnt spend much time inside their caves. All their food was outside, along with their water, sanitation and social lives. Ancient people spent hours of every day in the sunlight.

Today, we start the day in our houses, go into the garage, get in our cars and drive to another garage and spend all day in an office.  

You can increase your vitamin D levels by spending more time in the sun, but its really not possible for most people to make a significant difference that way. In addition, sunlight has dangers of its own, including increasing the risk for skin cancer. 

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

Supplements are the best way to increase your Vitamin D intake to meaningful levels, but you should not start taking supplements without first testing your current level. Its a simple blood test that any doctor can order. This is especially important because Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning that it can accumulate in fat and cause problems if you get too much. 

Be sure your doctor is giving you the 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test. Its the most accurate. The optimal level of Vitamin D is somewhat controversial, but I like to see it above 40 nanograms per milliliter of blood, and, ideally, between 60 and 80.

Be aware that there are two kinds of supplements available: D2 and D3. I recommend D3 its the kind of Vitamin D the human skin makes from sunlight exposure and I think its more effective than D2. 

Your doctor can help you determine the right dosage  but most people need between 2,000 and 4,000 international units per day, and that can vary seasonally. Your doctor should re-check your levels after three to four months and adjust the dosage as needed. 

Some patients experience noticeable improvements in health, including a lessening of chronic pain or recovery of lost bone density. For others the benefits are invisible, such as lowering the risk of cancer and other diseases.  

OTHER SOURCES

There are other ways to increase your level of Vitamin D, including multi-vitamins and food sources, which include fish, fortified dairy products and shiitake mushrooms. But the amount available in foods and multi-vitamins is not enough for most people who need supplementation.  

Patients with chronic kidney disease may need different forms of supplementation. Their doctors can help them find a solution that raises their Vitamin D while protecting them from harm. 

The author can be reached at info@caringdoc.com.

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