Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is crucial to maintaining strong bones. Without vitamin D your body cannot absorb calcium ingested through food. This means your body will steal calcium from your bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Our ancestors, who worked outside in the sun all day, rarely had trouble getting enough vitamin D. With only 10 to 15 minutes of sun on the arms, legs and face a few days a week, the body produces sufficient amounts. However, Americans today don’t always spend that much time outdoors. And except during summer months, people living north of the 37th parallel (that’s us) do not get enough sunlight for adequate skin production of vitamin D.
Because of skin changes and decreased absorption from the intestines, adults age 65 and over have significantly lowered vitamin D production. And blood levels of vitamin D are only about half as high in African Americans than in Caucasian Americans.
An increasing number of experts are recommending testing for a Vitamin D deficiency, especially if you:
- Are over age 70
- Have darker skin
- Live in a northern (or smoggy) area
- Take medications such as glucocorticoids or thiazide diuretics that interfere with vitamin D production
Symptoms of low vitamin D include chronic pain, tenderness and weakness, particularly in the lower back, hips and legs. With or without those symptoms, it’s a good idea to try increasing your vitamin D level by spending 10 to 15 minutes outside in the sun every day and boosting your vitamin D intake through food.
Good sources of vitamin D include:
- Fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereals
Next time you’re at the clinic for your annual check-up, talk to your provider about your risk for vitamin D deficiency. He or she may suggest an over-the-counter supplement, but only after taking into consideration your current medications and any other medical conditions.