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We Must Stop Ignoring the Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency

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vitamin d Despite all of the hard work of the scientific community to learn more about vitamin D and educate the public, the very real dangers of vitamin D deficiency continue to be largely ignored. However, there is growing reason to hope that will soon change, particularly as the United Kingdom has recently updated its recommendations surrounding vitamin D, and is now advising it as a supplement for the entire population.

The United Kingdom’s Revelation

The evidence supporting vitamin D supplementation has been mounting for years, but until recently, the United Kingdom (along with much of the rest of the developed world) had only recommended this critical hormone to the very young or those at risk. That has changed now, as Public Health England revised that stance, and now recommends that everyone consider taking vitamin D supplementation in autumn and winter. 

This updated recommendation was based on a detailed look at evidence collected over the last five years, which suggests that it is difficult for people to receive sufficient levels of vitamin D through diet alone, particularly during times when sunlight is scarce.

On the heels of this new data examination, the United Kingdom’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) made specific new recommendations, and now suggests that people receive 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day; this number applies to everyone over the age of one. Furthermore, SCAN specified that during months with less sunlight and during which more time is commonly spent indoors — typically in autumn and winter — people should strongly consider meeting their quota through supplementation.

Lastly, SCAN recommends that children aged one to four years old should take vitamin D supplements every day of the year. Advice already in place, that recommended top-up daily supplements for certain at-risk groups, remains in effect.

Meanwhile, the United States formally suggests Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D as demonstrated by the table below.

Table 2: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D [1]
AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–12 months*400 IU
(10 mcg)
400 IU
(10 mcg)
1–13 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
14–18 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
19–50 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
51–70 years600 IU
(15 mcg)
600 IU
(15 mcg)
>70 years800 IU
(20 mcg)
800 IU
(20 mcg)

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Source: The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Why is Vitamin D so Important?

The primary function of vitamin D is to carefully regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in our bodies, two key minerals that are imperative to the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, muscles, and teeth. In the absence of sufficient vitamin D, our bones are prone to becoming thinner, weaker, and misshapen. 

More specifically, a chronic lack of vitamin D may lead to osteomalacia in adults, which, in addition to the aforementioned symptoms, also causes bone pain and aches. In children, extreme deficiency may ultimately lead to rickets, a condition in which bones fail to develop properly, leading to soft, misshapen bones and skeletal deformities.

Most people receive the bulk of their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on their skin. It is also introduced to the body through foods — particularly fatty fish and fortified cereals, and to a lesser degree in some other meat and dairy products — but typically not in sufficient quantities. Therefore, in situations where sunlight and/or the proper foods are scarce, or simply not sufficient, there is plenty of reason to take vitamin D supplements.

Should I Take Vitamin D Supplements?

There are a number of factors to evaluate when considering a regimen of vitamin D supplementation. Firstly, as with all types of supplementation, it is important to recognize that everyone individual is unique, and some people will require more than others. Moreover, there is a point at which too much vitamin D can actually become problematic—potentially leading to heart and kidney problems—but such cases remain generally rare. 

Therefore, while the best course of action may be to talk to your physician about the correct amount of vitamin D supplementation you require to meet your needs, here are a few types of people who are the most likely to require supplementation:

  • People who have little exposure to the sun
  • People who routinely cover their skin—whether by clothing or by sunblock—when they are outside
  • People who have dark skin, particularly people of African American ancestry
  • Older adults, and particularly older women, as aging skin does not synthesize vitamin D as efficiently and this population tends to spend more time indoors
  • Breastfed infants, as human milk alone cannot typically meet dietary needs
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People with inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions that result in fat malabsorption
  • People who are obese or who have had gastric bypass surgery, as they may require greater vitamin D intake than most people
  • People on certain medications, including steroids, some weight-loss and cholesterol-lowering drugs, and some medicines used to control epileptic seizures

If you meet any of the criteria in this list, vitamin D supplementation is strongly indicated. However, even if you are not explicitly named in the list above, it is still likely that you will benefit from taking the vitamin—particularly during the autumn and winter months.

We have ignored the dangers of vitamin D deficiency for far too long, and as the evidence supporting regular supplementation becomes more and more overwhelming for large portions of the population, there is simply no reason to procrastinate any longer. Consider all of this information and evaluate your own need for vitamin D supplementation—with the consult of your physician as needed—as there are far more potential benefits than there are drawbacks.

References

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36846894

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/osteoporosis-scurvy-bone-not-calcium-deficiency


Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.


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