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Reasons Why Vitamin D Matters (May 2, 2012)

When patients exhibit vitamin D deficiencies, physicians often suggest over-the-counter supplements. If patients have severe deficits, physicians prescribe increased doses. The most common concern in having inadequate levels of vitamin D in the body evolves around bone health. Without sufficient amounts of the fat soluble vitamin, the body does not effectively absorb calcium, which leads to bone fragility.

American researchers recently reported that of almost 1,000 patients receiving treatments for fractures at a Missouri trauma center, 78 percent displayed insufficient levels of the vitamin, and 39 percent exhibited serious deficiencies. Korean physicians also correlate the connection between fractures and insufficient vitamin D levels, as patients suffering fractures usually had blood tests that showed vitamin D deficiencies.

Research also indicates that adequate levels of the vitamin guard the body against some chronic or potentially dangerous diseases. Recent studies suggest that patients having decreased vitamin D levels may also develop autoimmune diseases, cancer or diabetes. Insufficient levels may also make people susceptible to heart disease, hypertension, complicated pregnancies and neuropsychological disorders. Though studies and research remain limited, many health conscious individuals elect to increase vitamin D supplementation.

Dr. Kevin A. Fiscella, a family physician from the University of Rochester, performed his own research and supplements his personal daily diet based on genetic factors. After observing thousands of adult patients during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Dr. Fiscella concluded that dark skinned people, particularly those having black skin, experience higher rates of vitamin D deficiency than lighter skinned people. Various reports also linked dark skinned people having insufficient levels of the vitamin with higher incidences of cancer, cardiovascular and kidney disease.

The ultraviolet B rays of the sun stimulate the body into manufacturing the precursor for vitamin D. The kidneys convert the precursor into the active form of the vitamin. Without adequate sunlight exposure, or the extensive use of sunblocks, this biological transformation fails to occur, causing insufficient levels of vitamin D.

Scientists believe that the skin color pigment known as melanin naturally increased in people residing close to the equator. Melanin acted as a natural sunblock, protecting these people from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays. Moving away from the equator, the sun's rays become less intense and dark skinned people seem to generate less vitamin D. Environmental circumstances also cause insufficient vitamin D levels in light skinned people. Individuals living in areas where the sun shines infrequently, or those who rarely go outdoors, often exhibit insufficient levels of the vitamin. As the body typically stores vitamin D in fatty tissue, individuals having problems with obesity also have lower than acceptable blood levels of the vitamin.

Scientists report that nearly every tissue and organ in the body contains vitamin D receptors, suggesting htat the vitamin plays a part in overall function. Researchers also believe that the vitamin influences gene production. The Institute of Medicine advises that people should have 20 nanograms of vitamin D per every milliliter of blood. Osteopaths recommend 30 nanograms per milliliter for healthy bones.

A Blood Test Can Measure Vitamin D Levels

The best way to diagnose a vitamin D defeiciency is a a blood test. The Vitamin D 25-hydroxy blood test measures concentration of the vitamin in your blood. However, because of a half-life of 15 days, the test does not indicate the amount stored in bodily tissues. The Vitamin D, 1, 25-hydroxy is a better blood test because it has a short half-life of 15 hours thereby providing a better measure of deficiency because blood levels do not decrease until the vitamin deficiency has become severe.

Anchovies, sardines, salmon and tuna are examples of fatty, cold water fish that contain the vitamin. Food manufacturers generally fortify breakfast cereals, dairy products and some juices with vitamin D. When consumers do not ingest these products, and do not receive enough direct sunlight exposure, deficiencies occur.

Dr. Fiscella recommends vitamin D screening particularly for blacks, individuals of all ages suffering from obesity, and pregnant or lactating women. Physicians belonging to the Endocrine Society recommend testing for patients diagnosed with bone, glandular or organ disorders. Postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 may benefit from screening before serious health problems occur. Researchers also advise that taking certain medications often contributes to lowered levels of vitamin D. These formulations include antifungal and antiviral medications. Anticonvulsants, cholesterol lowering agents and prescription steroids may also reduce blood levels of the vitamin.

The National Institutes of Health continues researching the possibility of cardiovascular protection and vitamin D. With the help of 20,000 men and women over the age of 50 receiving daily vitamin D supplements, scientists hope to obtain conclusive evidence by the year 2016.