Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Happens When There "Ain't No Sunshine"

The Importance of Vitamin D
Feeling a little blah this winter? Could be your level of vitamin D is low. Known as the “sunshine vitamin” vitamin D is derived not only through diet and supplementation but also through sun exposure. Skin exposed to the sun’s UV rays helps produce vitamin D naturally. However winter sunlight in northern regions like NY does not contain enough UV radiation; during harsh winter months, most people don't produce enough vitamin D naturally. Chronic fatigue, lack of energy, and even feelings of sadness can oftentimes be traced to low levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D Deficiency Factors
Winter’s lack of strong UV sunlight is not the only cause of low levels of vitamin D. A fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D requires fat for absorption; those with fat malabsorption conditions such as Crohn’s disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis can be vitamin D deficient. Obesity and poor nutrition can also place a person at risk for vitamin D insufficiencies. Increases in cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammation, severe asthma in children, and Osteoporosis are associated with vitamin D deficiencies; it is also thought to contribute to a variety of autoimmune diseases.

Benefits of Vitamin D
While it has been known for years that vitamin D helps the bones absorb calcium, aiding bone growth in children and protecting older adults from bone loss, studies have brought to light other important benefits. Proper levels of vitamin D help reduce inflammation and bolster the immune system, and regulate blood pressure. Studies have shown that vitamin D may even help decrease the risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Diet & Supplements
Despite bone-chilling weather, it’s still possible to get an adequate daily intake of vitamin D. A daily diet of fortified milk, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, lean meats, and oily fish such as salmon and tuna can ensure that proper levels are maintained. Vitamin D supplements are also a good source, however it is important to have your levels checked before supplementing. The 25-hydroxyvitamin D test is the most accurate way of assessing Vitamin D in the body. Normal range is above 50 ng/ml (nanograms per milliter) year round for both children and adults. Lower results signify a deficiency; higher values indicate excessive levels which can trigger kidney stones, bone loss, and calcification of the heart and kidneys if left untreated. Discuss your concerns about vitamin D with your health practitioner and ask for the 25-hydroxyvitamin D testing prior to commencing a supplement regimen.