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Benefits of Vitamin D

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Commonly referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D is necessary to achieve and maintain optimal health. Proper levels of vitamin D in the body provide many health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years.

Vitamin D is essential for optimal bone health because the body cannot absorb calcium without it. Proper vitamin D intake coupled with calcium, decreases the risk of osteoporosis. Not only does Vitamin D play a crucial role in bone health, but it also provides various other health benefits. It prevents and/or treats diabetes (type 1 and type 2), hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis. A topical compound containing vitamin D is often used to treat psoriasis. Furthermore, studies show that vitamin D taken with calcium reduces the risk of developing certain cancers. Research also shows proper vitamin D levels in the body assist in the treatment of dementia and other cognitive health conditions.

Although vitamin D is not commonly found in food, it can be obtained from fortified milk, cereal, and orange juice and in certain fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines). However, the amount of vitamin D in these food sources is inadequate for the body's needs. In order to obtain the proper levels of Vitamin D, sun exposure or a vitamin D supplement is usually needed.

Vitamin D is manufactured on the skin during sun exposure. The dangers of too much sun exposure and the fear of skin cancer lead people to use sunscreen and/or cover up to avoid the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Unfortunately, while these protective measures are effective in keeping one safe from the dangers the sun, they can inadvertently cause a vitamin D deficiency. In northern climates, people often suffer from vitamin D deficiency during the winter months.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common and it is estimated that over 40% of Americans may have low levels of vitamin D. Individuals most at risk include older adults, pregnant women, African-Americans, obese people, and those with chronic kidney disease or musculoskeletal disease.

While a mild vitamin D deficiency may not cause any symptoms, a moderate or heavy vitamin D deficiency may cause bone pain and muscle weakness. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to, chronic illnesses and/or infections, fatigue, back pain, depression, slow wound healing, low bone-mineral density, and hair loss. Osteomalacia (loss of bone mineral content, bone pain, muscle weakness, and soft bones) is often treated with vitamin D. Children can develop a vitamin D deficiency called rickets in which vitamin D is used to prevent or treat. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive disorders, psychological disorders, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), certain cancers, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.

Too much vitamin D can also be harmful. Symptoms of too much vitamin D include, but are not limited to, nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, confusion, disorientation, weakness, kidney problems, and abnormal heart rhythm.

A health care professional can order a simple blood test to determine the level of vitamin D in the body.