Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk for cancer and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis and lupus. This is in addition to the well-known connection of vitamin D deficiency to osteoporosis, bone health (rickets), fracture prevention, and heart health.
Researchers found, by mapping vitamin D receptors throughout the human genome that vitamin D deficiency is an environmental factor in increasing the risk of developing these disorders and that approximately 70 percent of the children and adults in the United States are vitamin D deficient.
This arises from a combination of not getting enough sunlight exposure and not taking in enough vitamin D rich food sources. Medications such as corticosteroids which is frequently prescribed for the treatment of RA are also the cause of vitamin d malabsorption.
A simple blood test can determine your vitamin D level. This test is called a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D test and can be requested, or prescribed by your doctor. In the past 10 years, the demand for the test has risen by 4000 percent due to increased awareness of the importance of this vitamin in achieving and maintaining good health.
A lack of vitamin D may be an underlying contributing factor in many conditions causing chronic pain in musculoskeletal conditions such as RA, neuropathy, migraine and inflammatory conditions. Checking vitamin D levels in any patient presenting with chronic pain should be a primary investigation and when warranted, restoration of healthy levels, a primary step towards reduction of inflammation, pain and restoration of mood and well-being.
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with heart disease and heart attack. The systematic inflammation of RA affects internal organs and therefore increases heart attack and stroke risk. Managing this risk includes eating a balanced natural diet including vitamin D rich foods, maintaining a healthy body weight and not engaging in inflammatory inducing activities such as smoking.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the absorption of calcium thus impacts the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis which is a high risk for those also suffering with RA. The vitamin also helps protect against depression in those affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is more prevalent in colder and darker climates in the winter.
Just 15 minutes of sun exposure to most of your body area in the summer time without wearing sunblock can give you up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D.
However, that amount of daily sun exposure especially here closer to the equator can cause skin damage leading to skin cancer. Having darker skin can help protect your skin but all people can develop skin cancer. Having darker skin tones also makes it more difficult for the vitamin D to penetrate and be absorbed.
Long hours of darkness in more northern climates make it difficult to get enough of this important vitamin, as does the level of air pollution in crowded urban areas where people may feel unsafe to venture outdoor for extended period of time.
Vitamin D must be converted by the liver and kidneys to calcitriol which then can attach to the vitamin D receptor sites in most of the body’s cells. The human body can store one form of pre-vitamin D (dehydrocholestrol) in the skin.
When the skin absorbs sunlight, it is transformed into pre-vitamin D3 cholecalciferol. You may notice that there is a link between vitamin D and beneficial forms of cholesterol.
In fact, your body manufactures cholesterol with the aid of vitamin D and then makes certain sex hormones from that backbone. It is an essential part of your metabolism.
The Institute of Health has set the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D at 600 IU daily. If you have a deficiency you may require more to build up this storable vitamin. People who have been diagnosed with severe vitamin D deficiency may need to take up to 10,000 IU per day.
Too much vitamin D can cause toxicity which can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, kidney stones, muscle weakness and confusion. However, you would need to take very high levels of vitamin D over an extended timeframe in order for toxicity to arise. It is important to get tested and talk with your doctor before taking high doses of vitamin D.
To increase your level of vitamin D naturally through food, include more oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna and egg yolks and mushrooms in your diet. Many cereals and of course milk are fortified with vitamin D. Aloha nui loa!
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD. is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com.