Vitamin D has been well known for its ability to help build strong bones. Vitamin D assists the body in using the calcium we eat for good bone production. A severe lack of vitamin D has been associated with the disease “rickets” when
bones don’t form properly and are very weak and soft.
We have come to realize that vitamin D has many other health benefits in addition to good bone health. It is formed in the skin in response to sunlight. It is also found in some foods including oily fish (e.g. halibut, salmon, etc.), egg yolks, and in fortified grain and dairy products, most commonly milk.
As a dermatologist I do not recommend obtaining vitamin D from extra exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) because it has a high risk of causing skin cancer later in life. The best and most cost-effective way to increase vitamin D levels is through vitamin pill supplementation.
Vitamin D deficiency can be silent or can be associated with the following symptoms and health conditions:
• Bone pain and weakness/factures (osteoporosis and osteopenia)
• Muscle cramps and pain
• Bone pain
• Poor concentration and problem solving, especially in seniors
• Some types of cancer
• Childhood asthma
• High blood pressure
Low vitamin D levels may occur for several reasons. These include not getting enough in your diet over time (commonly seen with vegan diets), low exposure to the sun (also, darker skin filters sunlight), kidney problems (kidneys activate vitamin D), diseases that produce low absorption of vitamin D in the intestines, being overweight, and increased age.
Some estimates calculate that over 50 percent of all people are vitamin D-deficient. That number increases with age, pregnancy, darker skin, obesity, and with living farther from the equator.
To check if you are vitamin D-deficient, the only blood test that can diagnose vitamin D deficiency accurately is very specifically the “25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D)” blood test. Although there is some difference of opinion, levels of 20-55 ng/ml are considered normal, but many doctors will consider or suggest supplementation with vitamin D if your levels are lower than 20-30 ng/ml.
Some doctors believe that levels of 50-80 ng/ml are desired and optimal. That being said, it is important to stress that your doctor will recommend the level that is best for you, so go by that figure and not necessarily anything you read online.
Although rare, it is possible to have too much vitamin D, so if you are supplementing with vitamin D, you should have your levels checked every three-to-six months to be safe. Ask your doctor about also checking your calcium, phosphorous, and parathyroid hormone levels if you are taking high doses of daily supplementation.
Make sure you discuss the importance of vitamin D at every one of your annual doctor visits especially if you are at risk for being vitamin D-deficient. There are many simple and effective ways of treating low vitamin D that will contribute greatly to your health.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African-American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.