Vitamin D is fundamental to promotion of good health

By David Burton

University of Missouri Extension

Deficiencies of Vitamin D are common according to Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“Most folks are aware that this fat-soluble vitamin works with calcium to help maintain and build strong bones,” said Duitsman. “While that is true, vitamin D is actually a hormone that study after study shows is fundamental to the promotion of good health and prevention of several serious health conditions.”

Here are a few examples of how vitamin D helps.

Help for the immune system—Vitamin D helps to regulate our immune system and ward off sickness and disease. Low levels compromise the immune system and lead to inappropriate immune responses such as the development of autoimmune diseases, including: type 1 diabetes; multiple sclerosis; rheumatoid arthritis; and systemic lupus.

Prevention of cancer—Evidence links vitamin D to the defense of over a dozen types of cancer, especially colon, breast, prostate, skin and pancreatic cancers.

Strong bones—Vitamin D provides protection from osteoporosis, rickets, osteomalacia and has been shown to help prevent falls and fractures by about 20%.

Protection from heart disease—Low levels of vitamin D are associated with a greater risk for heart disease, including: heart attack; stroke; heart failure; and formation of plaques in artery walls. Two very recent studies report vitamin D supplementation can significantly restore damage to the cardiovascular system caused by hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis; and reduce the stiffness of arterial walls.

Seasonal Affective Disorder—Vitamin D deficiency is linked to SAD, which is a pronounced melancholy that usually begins in the fall and continues through the winter months.

Type 2 Diabetes—Sufficient levels of vitamin D may offer protection against Type 2 Diabetes, while people with low levels of vitamin D are more prone to develop Type 2 Diabetes.

Neurodegenerative diseases—Low vitamin D levels are associated with cognitive impairments during aging, and with Parkinson’s disease. Sufficient levels of vitamin D and a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease are linked. It is important to note that a study in late 2017 reported that about one-half of those aged 65 and over have suboptimal levels of vitamin D.

Autism risk—A study published in late 2017 reported an association between low vitamin D levels at birth and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders at the age of three years.

Childhood health—Several large-scale studies have reported that vitamin D deficiency is widespread in U.S. children—approximately ten percent of children are deficient and one-half have suboptimal levels of the vitamin. These sub-optimal levels rarely cause overt symptoms, but can lead to serious conditions.

“How do you know if your vitamin D level is sufficient? The best way is to get your blood checked. If your levels are low, your doctor can suggest a supplement that works for you,” said Duitsman.

The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units of vitamin D for everyone ages 1-70, and 800 IU for adults older than age 70. The safe upper limit is set at 4,000 IU. Doctors may prescribe more than 4,000 IU to correct a vitamin D deficiency.

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Some foods, such as most of the U.S. milk supply, are fortified. Other dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream, are generally not fortified. The U.S. mandates that infant formula be fortified with vitamin D.

“Our bodies can synthesize vitamin D naturally when skin is exposed to sufficient ultraviolet-B sunlight. However, relying on this method may be insufficient to maintain the required blood levels of vitamin D for good health,” said Duitsman.

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For more information on nutrition, contact any of these nutrition specialists in southwest Missouri including Pam Duitsman in Greene County at 417-881-8909; Lindsey Gordon Stevenson in Barton County at 417-682-3579; Stephanie Johnson in Howell County at 417-256-2391 or Mary Sebade in Dallas County at 417-345-7551. The regional office of the Family Nutrition Education Program is located in Springfield and can be reached at 417-886-2059. Nutrition information is also available online