Vitamin D has been the subject of debate with respect to its role in our health and its surveillance for years. You may have talked about it at your annual physical and likely have been tested already. It is no argument that we must have Vitamin D in our bodies; however there are several questions that remain unanswered per its role in our health. In June 2014, the United States Preventative Task Force released a statement to the public stating there was insufficient evidence to weigh the benefits and harms of screening for Vitamin D deficiency to improve health outcomes in those who have no symptoms. They are questioning, not recommending against, if it is beneficial to test someone for Vitamin D deficiency if otherwise healthy and without complaint or risk factors. Would this screening prevent diseases? Would finding a low Vitamin D level be helpful to treat? Would screening cause harm? Research is underway to seek out the answers, and assure these answers are backed by scientific evidence.
The Practice of Medicine today is no longer the mindset of following what has always been done, but rather what is proven should be done. Please do not misunderstand, we do know Vitamin D very well, but we wish to know about it better. Are there benefits we have not realized? Is there benefit to screening someone who is asymptomatic? Is Vitamin D important to other areas of our body, not just bones? There is research that shows Vitamin D improves one’s lifespan. We all want a long, healthy and happy life, right?
So what is Vitamin D and why all the fuss? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that enables our body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D and Calcium are essential to our bone health. We all know a healthy body cannot be – without healthy bones. From a young age, we all learned to drink our milk. This vitamin is essential for bone growth and remodeling. The sensation of Vitamin D comes with its other discovered roles, in that it helps our immune system function properly, reduces inflammation and improves our nervous and muscular systems. The latest research shows associations that it may be beneficial in preventing certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, decreasing falls in the elderly and even conditions like multiple sclerosis or tuberculosis.
You may say, so why the argument? Vitamin D for everyone! Hold that thought – if you look back, I wrote the word associations. This is a word that I hope you will learn from this article, and when you hear it sharpen your senses to tease out what is being reported in Medicine. In medical speak, an association is merely an observation made in the research process where two entities are present together in an experiment and may be related to one another. The type of relationship cannot be definitively said. For example, the saying we have all heard “Married people are happier people.” Anyone who is single, married or has been married may be jumping up and down at this statement, right? If this statement is understood as an association, it reads true in that “married people are observed or correlated typically to be happy.” What you have to realize is that this statement if read as a “cause and effect” would be false as you cannot prove this. How can you compare every facet of one’s life, when married or single, and determine who is happier? You cannot not. We use a lot of associations, also known as correlations, in medical research as there are many things that cannot be scientifically studied. Meaning, would we study a couple married then have them divorce to study them single?
So back to Vitamin D, we do know if you have risk factors, have symptoms of having a low Vitamin D level you should be screened. You may ask, am I at risk? Do I have any symptoms?
Those who we feel are most at risk include the following: people who remain indoors and have limited sunlight exposure; pregnant women and certainly after when breastfeeding. If a mother is breastfeeding and deficient, this could affect her newborn as well; people with darker pigmented skin, meaning those who tan easily or are of ethnic descent with naturally dark pigmentation; perimenopausal and menopausal women and older adults in general; people who are obese or who have had gastric bypass; and people who have poor nutrition, digestive disorders or even who follow a strict vegan diet, meaning no dairy or fish in their diet.
Those who may be exhibiting symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency are difficult to identify, as symptoms are often subtle, and may be related to a number of other causes. There are some people who are found to be extremely deficient and have no symptoms at all and therefore one of the many reasons Vitamin D is being studied so closely today. Nonetheless, the most common symptoms include the following: fatigue or difficulty sleeping; joint pain, muscle pain or weakness; difficulty concentrating; and change in bowel habits.
The last part of this puzzle is where do you get it? Vitamin D comes from multiple sources and the most effective is the sun and your skin. Research shows that 15-minutes in the sun daily should produce an adequate amount of Vitamin D. Those with risk factors may not be able to achieve the full amount, meaning darker skin or more elderly thin skin and therefore must rely heavier on other sources like diet and supplements. Foods rich in Vitamin D include dairy, fortified yogurts and fish like salmon or tuna. Supplements can be found in a variety of forms, including pills, but there are more tasty forms like chocolate or gummy bear type products.
I bring this topic to your attention as it is an important and recent newsworthy topic, but it also illustrates one of many examples in health practices that we should handle cautiously. As far as we know now, it does not matter where you get your Vitamin D and calcium, as long as you get it. Research has proven it is vital and harm has not been found in usual doses. If you recognize any of these symptoms, assess your daily diet and lifestyle then take this information and talk with your Healthcare Provider. The bottom line is we must use common sense, appraise medical knowledge by comparing resources and reviewing this with your Healthcare Provider. This is your best defense to ensure you receive the safest, most proven medical care for a healthy and certainly happy you!