If you cut fat from your diet and are meticulous with sunscreen coverage, you may unwittingly create a vitamin D deficiency and put yourself at risk for immune problems, asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease, in addition to osteoporosis and weakened bones.
Vitamin D is present in a few foods, available as a dietary supplement or made by our bodies when certain processes are activated by sunshine. “But if you don’t get exposed to the sunlight, then you’re not getting sufficient vitamin D,” warns Donna Bacchi MD, chair of the Public Health and Preventive Medicine program at Upstate.
That means at particular risk of deficiency are:
- people who live in cloud-covered Northern climes such as Syracuse,
- babies who are exclusively breastfed,
- older adults whose skin is not as efficient at synthesizing vitamin D,
- vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat a lot of fish or vitamin D-fortified dairy products,
- dark-skinned individuals, since pigmentation prevents vitamin D from being processed,
- obese people, because fat alters the release of vitamin D into circulation,
- people whose exposure to natural sunlight is limited, including those who are housebound and women who wear long robes and head coverings for religious reasons, and
- people with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and some forms of liver disease, who may have trouble absorbing vitamin D.
The recommended daily allowance has recently increased to 600 milligrams per day for someone under age 70, and 700 milligrams for someone over age 70.
The best food sources include fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, herring and mackerel; egg yolks; and fortified orange juice, milk and other dairy products. Few people get adequate amounts of vitamin D through their diets.
To find out your level, ask your health care provider for a blood test. If your level is low, he or she may recommend dietary supplements.
Just be careful not to take more than you need. Vitamin D is a fat soluable vitamin, which means it doesn’t get flushed out of the body easily. If you take too much, it can accumulate and cause serious harm to your heart and kidneys.
Listen to Dr. Bacchi’s radio interview about vitamin D.