Vitamin D has been a hot topic in the news during the past few years. With so much information coming out so quickly, it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused. Below are is a short Q&A regarding what women need to know about Vitamin D and their health.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a nutrient the body needs in order to maintain health. It is well-known for helping the body absorb calcium and creating strong bones, but it is also important for muscles, nerves and the immune system. In addition, it plays a part in preventing many common diseases, including hypertension, diabetes and cancer.
What are the sources of Vitamin D?
The sun can be a great source of Vitamin D. The body makes its own Vitamin D when skin is exposed to direct sunlight. For most people in the United States, the sun is not at the correct angle during the winter. However, getting sun on the face, arms and legs at midday during the summer helps increase Vitamin D levels. The length of time a person should stay in the sun depends on how much skin is exposed and the color of the skin. Fair skin requires less time in the sun than darker skin. To reduce skin cancer risk, sunscreen is recommended if the exposure to sun is more than a few minutes. Unfortunately, sunscreen prevents the body from making Vitamin D. The bottom line is that it’s not easy to get all of the needed Vitamin D from the sun, and it’s not even possible in the winter.
Only a few foods naturally contain Vitamin D. Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, tuna, catfish and mackerel have a lot, and mushrooms and eggs have a little. Foods such as milk, cereal, orange juice and soy foods are often fortified with Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is also available as a supplement. It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about whether a supplement is needed and the safest amount to take.
Should I be concerned about my Vitamin D level?
It is important for women to get enough Vitamin D, especially because women are at an increased risk of bone loss as they get older. Women who spend most of their time indoors, always wear sunscreen and don’t eat many Vitamin D-rich foods should talk to their doctor about having Vitamin D levels checked. Other individuals at risk of a Vitamin D deficiency include the elderly, people with dark skin, people who are obese, and people who have cystic fibrosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or liver disease. Signs and symptoms of a deficiency may include bone pain and muscle weakness, but symptoms are often subtle. Many women are not getting enough Vitamin D.
On the other hand, it is possible to get too much Vitamin D. This is an uncommon problem that occurs when someone gets too much Vitamin D from supplements. Individuals will not get too much Vitamin D from the sun because their bodies know when they have enough and will stop making it. Signs and symptoms of too much Vitamin D include fatigue, nausea, vomiting and irregular heart rhythm. However, bone pain and muscle weakness also fall into this category, so they can signal either too much Vitamin D or too little.
How can I check my Vitamin D level?
A physician can order a simple blood test to check Vitamin D levels. Doctors are well aware of the benefits of Vitamin D, as well as the problems that come from not getting enough or getting too much Vitamin D, and they can answer patient questions to determine if a blood test is necessary. If Vitamin D level is low, doctors will recommend over-the-counter supplements in most cases, or will prescribe a higher dose of Vitamin D if needed. Physicians will monitor Vitamin D level over time and adjust the amount of supplementation.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that helps your body in many ways. Too little Vitamin D can cause health problems, but the good news is that getting enough is easy through a combination of sunlight, food and possibly supplements. When it comes to Vitamin D, a fun and relaxing trip to the beach or pool may be just what the doctor ordered!
From the Doctors at Women’s Health Associates:
Leah Ridgway, MD
Evelina Swartzman, MD
Ana Martinez, MD
Reagan Wittek, MD
Amy Giedt, MD
Kimberly Matthews, MD