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Ester Marsh column: Are you getting enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D, also called the “sunshine vitamin,” is deficient in many more people than we realize.

Mostly kids, adolescents, elderly, the obese and people who stay inside most of the time can struggle with vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is one of our four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)

There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 comes from fortified foods, plant foods and supplements. And there is D3, which comes from the sun, fortified foods, animal foods such as fatty fish and cod liver oil, eggs and in supplements. Due to the increased number of vitamin D deficiencies, guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine recommend that adolescents 1-18 years of age get 600 IU (IU = international unit) per day, people 19-70 should get 600 IU per day and those over 70 should get 800 IU per day.

The Endocrine Society set the following guidelines for people at risk: 1-18 years of age, 600-1,000 IU per day; 19-70 years of age, 1,500-2,000 IU per day; and over 70 years of age, 1,500-2,000 IU per day.

There are many health benefits that come with the right levels of vitamin D.

To get an accurate test to see where your levels are, ask your doctor for the vitamin D test. It’s a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. Levels of 20 to 50 nanograms/milliliter in a healthy person is satisfactory. Less than 12 ng/ml is a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D promotes a healthy skeleton. We all know calcium helps with strong bones and teeth but vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium in the gut and helps to maintain our blood calcium levels. Adequate levels of vitamin D support a healthy immune system, brain and nervous system, it helps the health in pregnancies and infants, it helps to regulate insulin levels and helps with diabetes management. It supports lung function and aids in cardiovascular health.

It has improved hip and knee pain in people who suffered with vitamin D deficiency and insufficient levels. So why have vitamin D deficiencies risen? Our increased use of sunscreen, covering most of the body and decreased outdoor activities, and of course the scare for skin cancer (in many people) is limiting the skin to produce vitamin D via sun exposure. If you are like me I am confused! Am I supposed to go in the sun or not?

Recommended for healthy skin, low risk for skin cancer and getting enough vitamin D through sunlight is to expose most of your skin (shorts and T-shirt is fine) at mid-day for 10 minutes most days of the week. Dark skin has natural “sun block” and the recommendation is 3 to 5 times longer than fair skin. Dark skin takes longer to absorb the UVB (ultraviolet B — the important part from sunlight to get your vitamin D). If you are not sure if your levels are where they need to be, have your doctor run a blood test. It’s the most accurate way to see if your levels are acceptable. If you are like me, I make sure I get enough true sunlight which is not blocked by sunscreen. Since I can’t eat fatty fish (allergic to all seafood), I take a vitamin D supplement. So don’t be “scared” of the outdoors! Ten minutes midday of sunlight on your exposed skin can give you the right amount of vitamin D you need, especially in these winter months.

Ester Marsh ACSM Cpt certified and health & fitness director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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