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Vitamin D: Benefits Beyond Healthy Bones

Author: Deirdre Imus – Fox News Health – March 17, 2010

For decades vitamin D was associated only with bone-building calcium and healthy strong teeth. Today, we are beginning to understand just how important vitamin D really is to our overall health and that many of us are not getting enough of this vitally important vitamin.

In recent years, there has been growing concern that vitamin D deficiency has become widespread, affecting young and old alike.

Vitamin D can influence as many as 2,000 genes in the body. A number of factors can determine the body’s ability to manufacture an adequate supply of vitamin D, age and skin color among them.

Through exposure to direct sunlight, our bodies produce vitamin D naturally. Researchers have suggested the evolution of our environment and lifestyle – cloud cover, pollution, use of sunscreens, and working longer hours indoors – are all factors contributing to vitamin D deficiency.

Foods rich in vitamin D are limited. Vitamin D is found in some fish – like salmon, tuna, mackerel, cod liver oil – egg yolks and in fortified foods such as milk, yogurt, some breads cereals and juice drinks. Dietary supplements are commonly used to help us get the recommended daily dose, although most multivitamins contain vitamin D2, which is considered inferior to D3.

Along with bone disorders like osteoporosis, vitamin D deficiency can increase the susceptibility of developing a number of serious diseases including: several cancers, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, hypertension, diabetes, periodontal disease, depression and autoimmune disorders.

Last August, a nationwide study found insufficient levels of vitamin D in 70 percent of U.S. children, making them vulnerable to a multitude of health problems.

Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is a problem that can be easily treated. Studies have found that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can aid in preventing many serious diseases including some cancers, depression, respiratory tract infections, colds and the seasonal influenza.

Studies comparing high and low levels of vitamin D in seniors have shown a 33 percent decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 55 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes in individuals with higher levels of vitamin D.

After reviewing multiple studies, researchers at the University of California at San Diego have suggested that one-half of breast cancer cases and two-thirds of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented by taking 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 daily and spending 10 to 15 minutes in the sun each day, weather permitting.

Last week a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found “vitamin D(3) supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren” and a secondary observation suggesting “asthmatic children on placebo had six times more asthma attacks than did children on vitamin D.”

According to current guidelines by the Food and Nutrition Board, the daily adequate intake level of vitamin D recommended for children birth to 18 years and people 19 to 50 is 200 international units (IU). 400 IU recommended for men and women 51 to 70 and 600 IU for anyone over 70. However many experts are now convinced that these recommendation are too low. There are also concerns that some individuals, who meet the recommended daily dose of vitamin D, may be having difficulty with absorption.

Recognizing the seriousness of this health threat, last year experts published an editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition expressing the “urgent need” to raise the recommended adequate intake amount of vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recently doubled its guidelines and now recommends 400 IU per day in supplement form for infants, children and teens.

Recently, respected author and integrative medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, announced he was revising his recommendation of 1,000 IU per day to 2,000 IU per day based on the accumulation of “clinical evidence” supporting the higher dosage.  It is important to ask your doctor to check the vitamin D levels of every member of your family and make this test part of your family’s annual physical.

If you’re a mom who is breastfeeding, knowing your levels assures that both you and baby have optimal levels of the crucial vitamin. And if your child has special health care needs, like cancer, autism or asthma, or if they don’t have dairy or other vitamin D-supplemented drinks, it is especially important to follow their levels throughout the year. Your doctor can order a basic 25-hydroxy D level from any commercial laboratory. According to many integrative practitioners, for optimal health, your vitamin D levels should measure between 50 – 80 for all ages.

Identifying and effectively treating vitamin D deficiency could decrease the risk of developing many of the illnesses plaguing our society today.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers.