The ‘sunshine’ vitamin can keep you healthy, even in the winter months
By Sandy A. Ibrahim, MD and Donald R. Rhodes, MD
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a hot topic as we learn more about its impact beyond promoting bone growth. Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency, which affects nearly half the world’s population, is associated with a one-third increase in recurrent cancers, such as breast cancer, and recurrent heart attacks in individuals who have already had a first heart attack.
The good news is that Vitamin D deficiency usually can be managed by taking a daily Vitamin D supplement. Taking the supplement may be especially important for all of us during the winter months and, for some, year-round.
Here is a quick guide to making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D:
- Who’s at risk? Everyone needs Vitamin D, but some populations are exposed to greater health risks when they don’t have an ample supply. This includes pregnant women, children, the overweight, those with darker skin, and seniors (your ability to produce Vitamin D deceases with age). Deficiency in Vitamin D can be determined through a routine blood test. Ask your doctor to perform this test on your next visit.
- Why now? Over time too much sun can increase the risk for skin cancer but at the same time we need some exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays to promote production of Vitamin D. It’s a question of striking the right balance. In the winter, when we are spending more time indoors, it’s especially important to seek out alternative sources of Vitamin D.
- How can I regain healthy levels? There aren’t a lot of foods rich in Vitamin D, other than the dairy shelf’s usual suspects. And even if you drank a gallon of milk a day, you’re not likely to get enough of the fat-soluble vitamin. That’s why if you’re Vitamin D deficient, it’s recommended you take a gel cap (not a chalky tablet) supplement. We recommend 1000 – 2000 units per day, although some individuals may require more. You can find over-the-counter Vitamin D supplements at your local pharmacy for about $15.
- Are there other concerns? If you take digitalis (Digoxin) it’s important to consult a physician before taking supplemental Vitamin D. Also patients taking phenytoin (Dilantin), fosphenytoin (Cerebyx), phenobarbitol (Luminal), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and rifampin (Rimactane) may become depleted of Vitamin D over time so it’s important to ask your doctor to monitor your Vitamin D levels. Also any prescription or non-prescription “fat blocker” you may take will stop the absorption of Vitamin D from food. That makes it even more important to talk to your doctor about taking a supplement and when and how to time your supplement for best results.
Remember, if you haven’t had your Vitamin D level tested lately – especially if you’re in one of the high-risk groups mentioned or you’ve been diagnosed with a disease such as osteoporosis – make doing so one of your New Year’s resolutions. And if you find that you’re low, spend a bit more time outdoors, grab the gel cap supplements and enjoy the occasional tall, frothy glass of 2 percent or skim milk.
Taking Vitamin D is a low-cost but very important way to maintain your health and prevent disease. Just remember, just because you can’t soak up the sun each day, you still can and should enjoy the healthy aspects sunlight provides to your body—Vitamin D.
Drs. Sandy A. Ibrahim and Donald R. Rhodes are physcians with PartnerMD, a concierge medical practice in McLean, Virginia. More info can be found at www.partnermd.com