OVER THE COUNTER: Vitamin D: One of the keys to good health

By Steve Bernardi and Dr. Gary Kracoff/DAILY NEWS CORRESPONDENTSWe are often asked what natural supplements people should take to improve general health and help ward off disease. One key component is vitamin D3 (the active form of vitamin D).There is evidence that increasing your vitamin D levels is a sure way to feel better and stay healthier.  Vitamin D is in milk, juices, eggs, fatty fish and some fortified breakfast cereals. But the easiest place to get your daily D fix is outside — in the sunshine.As the days shorten and the sun dims in late fall and winter, many of us will experience a drop in our vitamin D levels. It is one of the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder and it’s why so many people feel tired and lethargic in the winter. That’s why February vacation in Florida always sounds so appealing. When we are exposed to the sun and can soak up the rays, our bodies create vitamin D which, research now shows, will improve DNA repair, reduce inflammation in the body and can even help to prevent cancer.It is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans has a vitamin D deficiency and that number is even higher for African-Americans. Vitamin D deficiency is not a new health issue — awareness of the shortages in children and adults in the 1930s led dairy farmers to begin adding vitamin D to their milk.In the 1940s, industrial production of vitamin D as a food additive grew. Yet today, people are even more deficient in vitamin D. Why? For one, fears of overexposure to the sun have prompted people to use more powerful sunscreens. We don’t advocate excessive sunbathing to make up for missing vitamin D, but sensible exposure is a good idea. Twenty minutes of unprotected sun exposure early or late in the day can help the body get enough ultraviolet light to spur vitamin D creation.Because so many people are vitamin D-deficient, the potential to make the population healthier is so great. Doctors, pharmacists and health experts agree correcting vitamin D levels will lead to an overall increase in the health status and quality of life of our population. Improved health and wellness lead to lower health care costs as well, something that should not escape our attention as health care costs rapidly approach 20 percent of our GDP.Indeed, new research into how vitamin D prevents disease points to the importance of raising the levels in every person’s system. The normal range is 20 to 85 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) with 50 to 60 ng/ml being the optimal level.Among the latest findings: deficiencies in vitamin D seem to be a precursor to developing breast cancer.  Studies show women with low levels of vitamin D have a greater than 200 percent risk for developing breast cancer. And, what’s more, researchers have found that the level of vitamin D in the blood at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis can help to predict a woman’s chances for survival. Lower levels indicate a higher risk that the cancer will more rapidly metastasize. Other cancers also appear to be more damaging to people who don’t have sufficient levels of vitamin D.In children, insufficient vitamin D appears to be directly linked to obesity. Kids with vitamin D deficiencies tend to suffer from chronic fatigue, decreased stamina, asthma and more frequent colds. These conditions prevent children from exercising enough to give their bodies the chance to use up the excess carbohydrates and fats associated with today’s typical family diet. As they exercise less, more fat is stored in the body leading children to be overweight and less inclined to engage in enough regular exercise to improve their condition. It’s a vicious cycle that continues into adulthood.Pediatricians agree parents can begin supplementing vitamin D in their child’s diet after age 2 months –especially if the child is breast fed, because most mothers don’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies to boost the levels in their milk. A simple blood test can ensure that the child has adequate vitamin D during their formative years.We suggest three important steps to addressing potential vitamin D deficiency. First, the next time you or your child goes to the doctor, ask to have your or your child’s levels tested. Second, be sure your diet contains enough vitamin D-rich foods, and if it doesn’t, start taking supplements. Third, get out in the sunshine. Winter can be cold and dark so it’s important to boost levels this time of year. Chances are you’ll feel better and maintain better health.Steve Bernardi of Framingham is a compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff of Natick is a registered pharmacist and a naturopathic doctor at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center in Waltham (www.naturalcompounder.com). Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can e-mail steveandgary@naturalcompounder.com or call 781-893-3870.Copyright 2010 The MetroWest Daily News. Some rights reserved

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