Understanding Vitamin D Defiency
Often nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is an important but frequently misunderstood nutrient. Conflicting news reports touting the link between Vitamin D and cancer prevention, or debating the pros and cons of Vitamin D supplements, have only added to the confusion.
While the jury may still be out on Vitamin D’s role in immunity or disease prevention, one thing is clear – our bodies need adequate Vitamin D levels for proper health, and we’re not immune to Vitamin D deficiency simply because we live in a climate with beautiful year-round sunshine.
Why it’s Important
Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and maintain normal levels of phosphorus – in other words, Vitamin D makes our bones strong. That’s why children with Vitamin D deficiency can develop rickets, a disease that causes bone softness and weakness, and adults who don’t get enough Vitamin D are prone to osteomalacia, which causes weak bones and muscles.
Where to Find It
It may sound hard to believe, but our bodies produce Vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, specifically the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. While many of us will get all the Vitamin D we need from sun exposure, others will need to get Vitamin D through other sources as well. These individuals include people who spend a lot of time indoors, whether it’s due to an office job or because you’re home-bound due to your health. Additionally, while sunscreen use is critically important to preventing skin cancer, its continuous use may hamper Vitamin D production because sunscreens help block UV rays from reaching our skin.
Vitamin D is found in some foods including egg yolks, cheese, pork, fortified milk and cereals, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. While you can also purchase over-the-counter Vitamin D supplements, please talk to your primary care doctor before taking any to determine whether you actually need them and what dose is appropriate. Too much Vitamin D can be harmful to your health.
Who is at Risk?
Certain people are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency. In addition to people with limited sun exposure, those who are at higher risk include people who are elderly or obese, people who have darker skin, and babies who are exclusively breastfed. Additionally, certain medical conditions such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can cause a deficiency.
Talk to Your Doctor
Because symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency may not be obvious, it’s very important not to diagnose yourself. Your primary care doctor can check your Vitamin D levels with a simple blood test. If you are Vitamin D deficient, your doctor will work with you on a course of treatment that may include careful sun exposure (to minimize skin damage from UV rays) and the proper use of Vitamin D supplements.
Mark Shalauta, M.D., is a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic in Rancho Bernardo. Dr. Shalauta provides comprehensive primary care, with a special interest in newborn, pediatric, and adolescent medicine. While he is trained to perform a variety of procedures, he specializes in newborn circumcisions, skin biopsies and procedures, joint injections, IUD placement, and colposcopies.
Looking for a new doctor? To find a Scripps physician near you call 858-256-7939 or visit www.scripps.org/92131.