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Published on November 27, 2013

Basking in vitamin D: In winter months, it’s even more important to get plenty of the sunshine drug

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If you are a current Palos Medical Group patient and think you may have a vitamin D deficiency, please talk with your primary care physician about getting a 25-OH vitamin D test, which can be performed along with your annual blood work. If you are new to PMG, please call (708) 403-8400.

The onset of winter means we’ll be feeling less of the sun’s warmth and with that comes a decrease in beneficial vitamin D.

In the past few years, a number of medical studies have suggested there may be more to the sunshine drug than meets the eye.

“We mostly need vitamin D to help us absorb calcium and phosphorus and keep our bones healthy,” says Andree de Bustros, M.D., an endocrinologist with Palos Medical Group. “In children, severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets. For adults, it causes a softening of the bones called osteomalacia. Milder degrees of the deficiency cause bone loss, aches and pains, and muscle weakening resulting in falls and fractures, particularly in the elderly.”

Receptors for vitamin D are found in nearly every single cell in the body, and researchers are learning it may be critical in preventing not only bone deformities and osteoporosis, but also diabetes, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, cancer and even death.

Research shows roughly 50 percent of Americans simply don’t get enough vitamin D, a hormone your body manufactures through a process triggered by direct sunlight. And as the weather gets colder, clothes become the barrier to vitamin D production.

“If you are living north of the equator, don’t get outside much, use sunscreen when you are in the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – which you should do to avoid skin cancer, and especially if you are overweight and have dark skin, chances are you are deficient in vitamin D and need to add a supplement to your diet all year long,” says Dr. de Bustros.

Getting your dose of D

Vitamin D can be found in some foods, including fortified milk and dairy products, orange juice, breakfast cereals, shiitake mushrooms, salmon, sardines and tuna. Most people must add a supplement to their diets to get the daily recommended amounts of vitamin D.

“Vitamin D is easily absorbed and because of its long half-life can be given daily, weekly or monthly,” says Dr. de Bustros.

In November 2010, the Food & Drug Administration’s Institute of Medicine increased its recommended daily allowance of vitamin D to 600 IUs a day for people younger than 70. Those 71 and older need as much as 800 IUs. The National Osteoporosis Foundation raised its recommendation as well, to between 400 and 800 IUs a day for people younger than 50, and between 800 to 1,000 for people 50 and older. Other organizations such as the Endocrine Society feel 1000 to 2000 IUs per day would be more appropriate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children receive 400 IUs a day.