Walk into most any pharmacy or big box store and peruse the vitamin and supplement aisle, and you can probably become completely overwhelmed, confused, and perhaps even frightened away. There is an endless sea of options out there just begging us to ingest them in the hopes of making our bodies even healthier. My solution to this dilemma has been to simply avoid this aisle. In fact, the last time I engaged in a regimen of daily vitamins was in my elementary school days and it was the Flintstones variety. This habit was short-lived, however.
When I visit the doctor today and am queried about any medications, vitamins, and supplements I take, I simply reply, “None.” After the doctor raises a quizzical eyebrow, I proudly inform her, “Well, I am not on medication of any kind, and I don’t take vitamins or supplements either.” While the no medication proclamation is always a good thing, it seems I am frequently urged by my doctor to at least take a daily multi-vitamin, calcium, and perhaps a vitamin D supplement.
While there are many reasons why I shy away from taking vitamins and supplements, the main one stems from a lifelong belief engrained in me by my father many years ago. A respected cardio-pulmonary specialist, my dad frequently opined that taking such things was really not necessary, provided one adhered to a well-balanced diet full of the foods that provide the essential nutrients, coupled with a commitment to daily exercise. As one who abhors taking medication of any kind, that was good enough for me. Even though my busy lifestyle may not always allow for the most favorable of diets, I make sure to exercise at least two hours a day, which I believe is the main reason I am not on medication of any kind at age 47.
However, I am constantly reminded through news, media, friends, and medical professionals today that calcium and vitamin D are clearly necessary for strong bones. I boast a diet that is rich in calcium through the variety of foods I eat bearing that nutrient. I also spend an appreciable amount of time in the sun, absorbing that natural vitamin D supplement along the way. Do I really need to take over-the-counter vitamin D supplements, or am I good to go? After all, my nearly 107-year-old grandma adhered to the discipline my father encouraged, and she doesn’t take any medications or supplements, and her bones supposedly seem to be made of steel. Therefore, I am hoping for a clear case of good genes to kick in and remain on my team for the long term.
As many of us know, vitamin D is necessary for the absorption and utilization of calcium, so we do need adequate amount of it for strong, healthy bones. When children are deprived of vitamin D, they can develop rickets. Adults who lack proper amounts of vitamin D can risk developing osteomalacia. Some research has suggested that getting enough vitamin D can play a role in preventing hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of cancer.
So, can you get the recommended daily dosage of vitamin D from just being in the sun, or do you need to take supplements as well? Also, are there risks associated with taking too much vitamin D?
As for the proper amount of vitamin D needed each day, the government’s dietary recommendation is 200 International Units (IU) a day to age 50; 400 IU to age 70, and 600 IU over age 70. Some experts, however, believe this is not enough for healthful levels of vitamin D. The government advocates a dose of daily sunshine in the summer months and supplementation in the darker, winter months. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends that children and adults up to age 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D each day. For adults over the age of 70, 800 IUs are recommended.
One of the current issues, especially in Western cultures, is the argument regarding sun bathing and its direct link to skin cancer. As increasing rates of skin cancer grew over the years, we were alerted to the inherent dangers of the sun’s intense rays. However, now we know that some sun exposure is necessary for our health, at the very least, to provide sufficient levels of vitamin D. I still don’t think my dermatologist has bought into this theory yet, as he is white as a ghost, and if I present with so much of a flush or mild glow when I visit him, I get read the riot act about the dangers of sun exposure. Therefore, I now schedule my appointments in the dead of winter, as I am the type who will tan just going out to get the mail.
Your body requires roughly five to 30 minutes of exposure to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun for up to 30 minutes, twice each week. This includes getting exposure on the face, arms, back, or legs, without the use of sunscreen, which blocks those necessary rays. Of course, after this short period of unprotected exposure to the sun, experts do advise applying sunscreen in an effort to prevent skin cancer. It’s a delicate balance.
Also, the pigmentation of your skin is a determining factor. If you have darker skin, you are better protected from skin cancer but your skin is less able to absorb UVB rays. Therefore, while a fair-skinned individual may need just a few minutes out in the sun, darker-skinned folks may need up to 20 more minutes. Additional research is being conducted on this matter and this information is far from conclusive.
What happens if you assume too much vitamin D? Vitamin D toxicity can result from taking an excessive amount of vitamin D supplements, but not from your diet or from too much sun exposure. Your body naturally regulates how much vitamin D is produced from the sun, and even fortified foods don’t contain excessive amount of vitamin D.
Although vitamin D toxicity is serious, it is also treatable. The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood, known as hypercalcemiahttp://www.nehealthadvisory.com/2010/05/the-dangers-of-vitamin-d-deficiency, which can present with such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, diminished appetite, constipation, weakness, confusion, heart rhythm abnormalities, and kidney stones.
If you are not one to sit in the sun or if you live in a region where sunlight is minimal, especially during certain times of the year, taking supplements is a reasonable way to meet your daily requirements, but it is imperative that you pay close attention to how much you take. Your doctor can properly advise you as to the proper dosage for your needs, as she will also take into consideration any underlying medical condition(s) that can be adversely affected by taking insufficient or excessive amounts of vitamin D.
(Information for this article was found at http://www.nehealthadvisory.com/2010/05/the-dangers-of-vitamin-d-deficiency;
http://nutrition.about.com/od/askyournutritionist/f/sunlight.htm and at
Reviewed June 9, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton