Recently a good friend of mine, who normally has the energy of 10 teenagers, complained to her doctor about feeling exhausted all the time.  He ran some tests and found she had extremely low levels of Vitamin D.  After about a month of treatment, she was as good as new again.  But what if she just chalked up her fatigue to the aging process and not addressed it with her doctor?  And why is Vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is unfortunately found naturally in very few foods (the flesh of certain kind of fish—salmon, mackerel and tuna).  You can also get very small amounts of Vitamin D in egg yolks, cheese and beef liver.   Since the 1930’s, milk products in the United States have been fortified with Vitamin D to combat rickets, a softening of the bones in children which can lead to fractures and irregularly formed bones.   Luckily, the milk fortification program eliminated the disease in the US but rickets is still a major problem in many developing countries today.  Other foods, such as certain breakfast cereals, orange juice and yogurt are often fortified with Vitamin D as well.

Your body also produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which is why it’s often called “The Sunshine Vitamin”.  This presents a conundrum for us!  We’ve been told to cover up and wear sunscreen all the time.  However, the NIH states, “It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers that approximately 5-30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually leads to sufficient vitamin D synthesis.”   I’m not sure if dermatologists would agree with this since they’re the ones who’ve been telling us to get out of the sun.

So what do we do?  I’ll present the research and let you decide…

Dangerously low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to:

  • Heart Disease. In a study published in June, 2008, subjects with low levels of Vitamin D were 80% more likely to have peripheral artery disease (Arterioscler, Thromb, Vasc Bio–2005; 25-39: 39-46).
  • Depression. Blood levels of Vitamin D have been shown to be 14% lower in depressed individuals (Arch Gen Psychiatry; May 2008).
  • Osteoporosis.  According to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, 85% of women hospitalized for hip fractures have a Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Back Pain.  In the report, “Vitamin D—A Neglected Analgesic for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain” 95% of back pain sufferers (who had low Vitamin D levels) reported decreased symptoms after 3 months of supplementation.

Getting Adequate Amounts of Vitamin D has been shown to ward off:

  • Diabetes: In a study of more than 83,000 women over a 20 year period, the ones who took the highest levels of calcium AND Vitamin D had a 33% lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes (The Nurse’s Health Study).
  • Cancer: Higher levels of Vitamin D may cut your risk of certain cancers—particularly, breast,  pancreatic, colon and rectal cancers–and possibly ovarian, kidney and prostate cancer.

Vitamin D may also protect against fatigue, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, psoriasis, and colds/flu. Vitamin D levels are the lowest in the winter, which coincidentally is the peak season for catching colds and flus.

If that’s not enough to get your attention, low levels of Vitamin D have even been linked to premature death.  A paper published in March 2010, urges the Canadian government to take action against the low levels of Vitamin D found in their residents–which they  associate with a 26% increase in the risk of premature death.

So, while I’m not a doctor, my advice to you is this:  get your Vitamin D levels checked the next time you visit your physician.  She can guide you in the right direction.  Knowing your levels can make a world of difference to your health and the way you feel.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency, please tell us how it made you feel and what you did to get your levels up to an optimal level.

Know Your Numbers and Smile,