Vitamin D: The surprisingly important vitamin

Posted 3/23/22

For a long time, it was erroneously believed that we get all the vitamin D we need from the sun and from our diet.

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Vitamin D: The surprisingly important vitamin

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OKEECHOBEE -- For a long time, it was erroneously believed that we get all the vitamin D we need from the sun and from our diet. However, for many people, this is not the case. As Florida residents, despite the adequate sun exposure that many of us receive and the high dietary intake of vitamin D, many of us are commonly found to be deficient. Clearly, sun exposure alone does not ensure adequate levels of this surprisingly important vitamin. Why is vitamin D so important? 

 Vitamin D plays a vital role in multiple body systems including bones, blood sugar regulation, cardiovascular health, and in preventing disease. Many experts believe vitamin D is extremely important for the immune system. Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a role in fighting off TB (tuberculosis) and the flu (Influenza).  Reduction in sun exposure and henceforth vitamin D production in the fall and winter may be responsible for the increase in flu observed during this time. Macrophages, which are white blood cells that remove debris and fight some infections, need vitamin D to function properly. This is especially important considering the proposed reduced efficacy of this year’s flu vaccine in preventing the flu, according to CDC data. However, vitamin D deficiency has been implicated as a risk factor for many other diseases as well. 

  Studies link vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of cancer of the colon, prostate, breast, and ovaries and increases your risk of dying from those cancers. Studies have shown a 253% increased risk of colon cancer in patients who are deficient in vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to increased risk of premature death from all causes including coronary artery disease and dementia. Some experts estimate that taking adequate amounts of vitamin D can lower overall cancer risk by 70%! 

 In addition to its role in immunity, vitamin D deficiency can also cause “osteomalacia” or “soft bones” that can bend instead of staying strong and rigid as they should.  This can cause the bone lining (periosteum) to stretch, causing significant pain in the bones, tendons, and muscles.  Most laboratory and imaging studies are completely normal in osteomalacia, however, over time this can lead to osteoporosis and fractures of the bone. As we age, vitamin D stores are typically lower and the risk of falling is increased, making vitamin D deficiency especially problematic in the elderly population. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) and the American Geriatric Society (AGS) suggest a minimum level of 30 ng/mL in older adults to minimize the risk of falls and fracture. 

Expecting mothers are also at an increased risk of adverse health outcomes associated with low levels of vitamin D. Poor vitamin D status in pregnancy may have short and long-term consequences on fetal skeletal development and immunity. Yet, vitamin D deficiency is estimated to affect 40-98% of pregnant individuals worldwide.  

In light of the important role that vitamin D plays in our health and the implications of being deficient, it’s important to check the blood level of “25 hydroxy Vitamin D” to ensure adequate levels. Overdose of vitamin D can lead to health problems as well such as excess blood calcium ,high blood pressure, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, excess urination, excess thirst, weakness, nervousness, itching, heart attacks and even kidney failure. Visit your healthcare provider and ask about checking your vitamin D to ensure optimal health both now and in the future. 

Dr. Leland Heller, Okeechobee Family Practice

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