Vitamin D is touted as the new “wonder vitamin”. Not only do our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium for strong bones, but studies now show that people with low blood levels of vitamin D may be at a higher risk for heart problems and other health issues.
One study found that people with hypertension (high blood pressure) and a vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to have a heart attack than other people in the study.
Other studies suggest that people with low vitamin D are at risk for developing breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Low vitamin D levels may worsen the prognosis for women with breast cancer. In one study, women with a vitamin D deficiency when they were diagnosed had a 94% greater chance of the cancer spreading. They also had a 73% greater chance of dying over the next 10 years.
There is some evidence that vitamin D at high enough levels may inhibit the autoimmune processes that lead to multiple sclerosis (MS). Taking adequate vitamin D is important to decrease or minimize flare-ups of the disease in patients with MS.
Studies also show that children who get enough vitamin D from the sun or from supplements may have a reduced risk of developing Type I diabetes while others link inadequate vitamin D to more severe childhood asthma. Children with asthma who have low vitamin D levels have more hospitalizations and use more asthma medications. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency is now linked to depression and seasonal affective disorder.
Could you be deficient in vitamin D?
Your body uses your skin to make vitamin D when you are out in the sun. Milk, fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and soy products, and foods that naturally contain vitamin D such as salmon and eggs are good sources of this vitamin, but you cannot rely on foods to get enough. People with the following may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency:
- living in the northern latitudes
- digestive disorders
- being older than 50
- some medications including orlistat (Xenical) for weight loss, phenytoin (Dilantin) for seizures and corticosteroids
There is a simple blood test your doctor can order to check your level of vitamin D. It is a good idea to get your levels checked, especially if you are over the age of 50 and/ or have the above mentioned conditions.In Hong Kong, I have found that many patients- adult and children alike- have low levels of vitamin D regardless of sun exposure or diet.