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Vitamin D Deficiency: An Epidemic

Written by Jodie Parus, RD, LD

vitamin d deficiency

You may know Vitamin D as "the sun vitamin", but you may not be aware that deficiency of the vitamin is the common denominator of many serious diseases and is alarmingly widespread.  A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that 59% of the population is deficient in this key vitamin. 

Bioactive vitamin D or calcitriol is a steroid hormone, long known for its role in regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the body as well as mineralization of bone. It has more recently become clear that vitamin D receptors exist in most, if not all, cells in the body and its biologic effects extend well beyond mineral metabolism and bone growth. Vitamin D is instrumental in regulating the function of more than 200 genes.

The classic manifestations of vitamin D deficiency are osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children. Vitamin D deficiency can also result in obesity, hypertension, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease. In addition, deficiency may contribute or play a role in causing cancer, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and periodontal disease. Current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in seventeen varieties of different cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

The main ways of getting vitamin D are from sun exposure and taking supplements. Fifteen to twenty minutes of sun each day will help contribute to adequate vitamin D, but you will also need to consider food sources and taking a supplement. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods and those that do contain it have very small amounts making it nearly impossible to get what your body needs from food alone.  Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. Almost all of the U.S. milk supply is voluntarily fortified with 100 IU per cup, while some breakfast cereals, orange juices, yogurt and margarine contain added vitamin D.

With over a billion people worldwide vitamin D deficient, it is a global health problem and an epidemic. Taking a multivitamin containing vitamin D is not enough.  Infants and children should supplement with 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day and adults 5,000 IU per day.

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