By Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C
As the long, dark days of winter wear on, thoughts of vitamin D supplementation begin to bubble to the surface of the collective consciousness. You may be wondering whether you should take vitamin D as a supplement, or if it is not necessary because you already receive a sufficient amount through your daily diet and activities.
Read on to learn more about vitamin D, whether or not you should be taking it as a supplement, and why.
When it comes to maintaining proper calcium blood levels and bone health, simply eating foods with calcium is not enough. For the body to successfully absorb calcium through the digestive tract, vitamin D must also be present. Vitamin D is also important for body processes not related to bone growth, such as helping with cell growth, ensuring proper nervous system function, and reducing inflammation.
Sources of vitamin D in the diet include fortified foods (check the nutrition label of your milk container or cereal box to see if vitamin D has been added) and fatty fishes, such as salmon or mackerel. Some foods that contain vitamin D are more obscure; check out this list from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to discover more vitamin D sources you can add to your diet.
The good news, if you are not a fan of cod liver oil, is that not all of our vitamin D comes from food. Our bodies can also manufacture vitamin D when our skin cells are exposed to direct sunlight. The recommended amount of sun exposure is 15 to 20 minutes, three times a week. However, in the winter months, especially in northern latitudes where winter can last half the year, it can be difficult for our bodies to manufacture enough vitamin D via direct sunlight.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D for adults who are less than 70 years old is 600 international units (IU) daily; for adults older than 70, the recommended amount increases. Vitamin D supplementation is also routinely recommended for infants, children, and adolescents because individuals in these age groups have actively growing bones, and vitamin D supplementation helps prevents a condition of abnormal bone growth known as rickets.
Many healthcare providers will routinely check vitamin D levels using a blood test. Your healthcare provider may also check your vitamin D level if you have an unusual broken bone (known as a pathologic fracture), or if you are displaying symptoms of a vitamin deficiency, such as tiredness, soreness, or mood changes.
If you are found to be deficient in vitamin D, you may be counseled to first increase your dietary intake and expose yourself to more sunlight to see if your vitamin levels come up without further intervention. However, if you remain deficient, your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you start taking a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D supplements can be prescribed by your healthcare provider, and some are also available over the counter. For any medications that are prescribed, make sure to visit ScriptSave WellRx to save up to 80 percent at the pharmacy.
Chronic deficiency in vitamin D can manifest as certain undesirable symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle soreness, bone pain, and even depression. Additionally, if you are deficient in vitamin D, your body cannot appropriately use calcium to add to your bone density, so your bones may become too thin. This condition of pathological bone thinning, called osteoporosis, can increase your risk of breaking a bone.
Osteoporosis is a serious medical condition that is typically managed with prescription medications. These medications can be expensive, but you can use ScriptSave WellRx to find the lowest prescription price.
If you think you may benefit from vitamin D supplementation, follow up with your healthcare provider. For many people, a vitamin D supplement can improve health. However, people with certain medical conditions should not take vitamin D. In addition, vitamin D can interact with some medications.
It is always best to initiate a new supplement in coordination with your healthcare provider, who can help monitor your progress and suggest course corrections as needed.
Libby Pellegrini is a nationally certified physician assistant. She currently works in emergency medicine, where she sees and treats a broad spectrum of illnesses across all age ranges. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University.