One Billion People Don't Get Enough Vitamin D

THURSDAY July 19, 2007 -- Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem that can lead to a number of serious health conditions, but it can be prevented, says one expert.

People get vitamin D from sun exposure, diet and supplements. Yet vitamin D deficiency is all too common.

In utero and in childhood, not getting enough vitamin D can cause growth retardation, skeletal deformities and increase the risk of future hip fractures. In adults, too little vitamin D can lead to or exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.

In the July 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Michael Holick, director of the General Clinical Research Center at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Bone Healthcare Clinic at Boston Medical Center, published an overview of his work on vitamin D.

According to Holick, it has been estimated that one billion people in the world are vitamin D deficient or insufficient.

Without vitamin D, only 10 percent to 15 percent of dietary calcium and about 60 percent of phosphorus is absorbed by the body. This can have a direct effect on bone mineral density.

There is evidence that people who live at higher latitudes -- where the angle of the sun's rays is not sufficient to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D in the skin -- are more likely to develop and die of Hodgkin's lymphoma, colon, pancreatic, prostate, ovarian, breast and other cancers. And there is an association between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Holick says that the current recommended adequate intake for vitamin D needs to be increased to 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 per day.

"However, one can not obtain these amounts from most dietary sources unless one is eating oily fish frequently. Thus, sensible sun exposure (or UVB radiation) and/or supplements are required to satisfy the body's vitamin D requirement," Holick said in a prepared statement.

Holick added, "The goal of this paper is to make physicians aware of the medical problems associated with vitamin D deficiency. Physicians will then be able to impart this knowledge to their patients so they, too, will know how to recognize, treat and most importantly, maintain adequate levels of this important vitamin."

More information

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements has more about vitamin D.

Posted: July 2007


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