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How to Improve a Vitamin D Deficiency

By Amber Keefer

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that the body needs for healthy bones and muscles. While easily treated, deficiency can sometimes cause serious health problems. A recent study published in the March 23, 2009, issue of “Archives of Internal Medicine” reports that three out of four Americans may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency with certain ethnic and racial groups at higher risk. Adit Ginde, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, says the results of the study suggest that more Americans may need to increase their vitamin D intake to improve their health.

Include more foods in your diet that have vitamin D. Although an important step, it might be the most difficult because there are only a few food sources that are naturally rich in vitamin D, including liver, egg yolks, cod liver oil and seafood such as trout, tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel.

Drink milk and orange juice, which are fortified with vitamin D. Other fortified foods include margarine, breakfast cereals and some cheeses. According to a National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet, fortified foods provide most of a person's dietary sources of vitamin D.

Get 10 minutes of sunlight two to three times each week exposing about 25 percent of the skin’s surface. Since most people meet their vitamin D requirements through exposure to the sun, exposing just your hands and face to sunlight can help you to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D.

Ask your doctor whether you need vitamin D supplementation. A minimum of 1,000 to 2,000 IU taken daily may be needed to raise vitamin D levels for some people. Although previous research has shown that vitamin D deficiency weakens bones and is often associated with musculoskeletal disorders, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City suggests that not enough vitamin D also may contribute to heart disease. While more research is needed, Heidi May, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the center and one of the study’s authors, points out that the results suggest even moderate vitamin D deficiency in individuals older than 50 could lead to an increased risk for coronary artery disease.

Take a multivitamin fortified with vitamin D. Check the label to make sure that vitamin D is in the D3 form, also known as cholecalciferol.

Warnings

Because increased exposure to the sun increases the risk for skin cancer, Americans have been conditioned to wear sunscreen whenever going outdoors. However, always wearing sunscreen can reduce the skin’s vitamin D production. Despite the risks of getting too much sun, short-term exposure without wearing sunscreen can have many health benefits, including allowing the body to produce the vitamin D it needs.

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