Vitamin D

Research is revealing the importance of Vitamin D in all of the body's functioning and its importance for overall health, well-being, energy and disease prevention. In addition to providing for healthy bone development and maintenance, Vitamin D or 125-dihydroy-vitamin D, controls more than 200 genes, including those responsible for the regulation of cell growth and differentiation. Having adequate Vitamin D levels may reduce the risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers, as well as Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Diabetes Type 2 and cardiovascular diseases. This is not to say that there is a direct cause and effect, but there is a correlation between low Vitamin D levels and these disease processes.

Vitamin D deficiency is also linked with obesity.  A low Vitamin D level can be the result of carrying excess weight.  Several reasons have been suggested for this, but the most likely theory is that the Vitamin D is not readily absorbed from dietary sources because it is deposited in the adipose (fat) tissues.  Studies have shown an inverse relationship between the percentage of body fat and the blood level of Vitamin D.  The more fat on the body, the lower the Vitamin D level.

So where does one get Vitamin D? The best source is the sun. Ten minutes of sun exposure during the morning or late afternoon can boost your Vitamin D levels. However, given where we live in the country, we don't often get to see the sun as much as people in other parts of the country. Actually, it isn't uncommon for people living at latitudes higher than that of Pittsburgh, PA to be deficient in Vitamin D. Therefore, let's look at other ways you can boost your levels of this important vitamin.

Cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, egg yolks and liver are natural sources of Vitamin D. Milk, orange juice and even some cereals have been fortified with Vitamin D. Try to have a diet rich in these foods, but also consider supplementation.

Before you begin to supplement with Vitamin D, make an appointment to see your health care provider and have your Vitamin D level measured via a simple blood test. Then, you and your provider can discuss ways to augment your levels. The optimal level of Vitamin D is about 75 nmol/L.

If you are supplementing with a vitamin D capsule, it can take 3-12 months before your Vitamin D rises to the desired level. You want to continue with your supplementation on a regular basis and have your Vitamin D level checked periodically.

The take home message is that Vitamin D is emerging as a critical nutrient for many of the body's processes. You can achieve adequate levels through responsible sun exposure, diet and supplementation. Let's hope for a sunny Spring and Summer this year.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.