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Vitamin D is often overlooked

By David Freidson | Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014 12:00 am

As this long winter drudges on, many of us are missing things such as: Long walks with the warm sun shining down on us, the smell of freshly cut grass, sitting outside and leisurely enjoying a meal with a friend, adequate serum vitamin D levels.

I am ashamed to admit this as a chiropractor who has vitamin D on his shelf, but I was recently tested to be deficient in vitamin D.

It really shouldn't have been a surprise for me for several reasons: I was taking a multivitamin, but like most multivitamins, the vitamin D levels weren't that high.

Also, I had taken a separate vitamin D supplement for years but life got busy and I had stopped taking it several months back. And it was the middle of winter!

So what's the big deal with vitamin D and who cares if you are deficient in it you say? The beneficial role of vitamin D in bone and muscular health is undisputed in the research.

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and helps with bone growth and bone remodeling. Vitamin D helps prevent rickets in children, and decreases the risks of osteoporosis in adults.

Calcium is needed for every muscular contraction and since vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, a deficiency in vitamin D causes a deficiency in blood calcium levels, which can cause muscular cramping, weakness, etc.

Vitamin D has been shown to have many other health benefits. Vitamin D is needed by nerves to carry messages between the brain and the body.

The immune system also uses vitamin D to fight off infection. Recently, vitamin D has been shown to help with seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension and infectious disease.

So vitamin D is important; can't you just eat certain food to get a high level of vitamin D? You can, but vitamin D is very rare in the non-fortified foods that we eat.

For all practical purposes, you can either get adequate vitamin D through sunlight or through supplementation. And you could sit outside all day on a sunny winter day in Minnesota (I'm not sure why you'd want to do that) and not get vitamin D because in the winter, the sun does not produce enough ultraviolet B waves.

How much vitamin D do you need if you are going to take a supplement? Like most things in healthcare, the answer is not simple. The RDI for vitamin D is 600 IU/day, and 800 IU/day for seniors. The Endocrine Society recommends 1,500-2,000 IU/day, and the Vitamin D council recommends 5,000 IU/day.

Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that you can have too much in your body. Barring a medical condition, vitamin D toxicity usually could only happen if you took 40,000 IU/day for a couple of months or longer. I personally think there is no need to take a supplement that had more than 5,000 IU, and that is what I take.

A small percentage of people should not take vitamin D supplements without doctor supervision. Those are people who take certain medications such as digoxin for an irregular heartbeat, or thiazide diuretics for high blood pressure.

You also probably shouldn't take vitamin D if you have primary hyperparathyroidism, certain types of kidney or liver disease, or Hodgkin's disease.

Insurance companies for the most part only cover vitamin D testing if there is a muscle or bone disorder suspected, or if there is a malabsorption or a thyroid condition present.

If you have sore or weak muscles, for example, most insurance companies would cover the test. I have, at times, a physically demanding job, and my muscles are often a bit sore-I told that to my doctor at my last physical and the vitamin D test was covered by my insurance company.

David Freidson is a licensed chiropractor and works out of the Synergy Health & Rehabilitation office in Minnetonka. To learn more, visit www.synergyhealthmn.com or call 952-475-4080.

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