Monday, December 6, 2010

Vitamin D recommendations revised - When food sources are not enough

If you haven't heard about the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency yet, I consider this a must read.

Our knowledge of the role of Vitamin D has been rapidly advancing. For most of us, food sources may be insufficient to correct the problem alone. Why? Because I don't know many who enjoy cod liver oil or beef liver, or many who drink enough milk with Vitamin D added in sufficient quantities to meet our daily recommended intake of Vitamin D despite the award winning "Got Milk" advertising. We may be staying away from other good sources such as salmon, tuna, sardines due to concerns about too much mercury from fish. Vitamin D is also found in egg yolks which are great for you but old science suggested that eggs yolks contain cholesterol so we should stay away. (By the way, newer science says that dietary cholesterol does not impact the cholesterol level in your blood but did you know that? Eggs are the food that supports life, I think they're pretty important to eat.)  Fortified foods -- such as some yogurts, cereals, and orange juices -- may also provide Vitamin D but you have to seek the brands out since not all brands of these foods are fortified. Do you consume enough Vitamin D each day?
Finally, we need approximately 15 minutes of sunshine exposure daily too for our skin to produce the Vitamin D we need. This can be a challenge for those trying to stay out of the sun to avoid it's negative impact on our skin, especially for those that work too many hours indoors.

What should you do? It's certainly time to check your diet but more importantly ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D level the next time you have a blood work up. Some figures report that as many as 80% of the U.S. is now Vitamin D deficient. Even if that is too high, and it's one out of two of us, odds are that you or someone you love is deficient.

Now, why should you be concerned? For many reasons tied to your immune system, but perhaps the one I find most convincing is that Vitamin D is involved in the mechanism which checks to see that we replicate our cells properly. Cancer cells are examples of cells that have not replicated normally. If our cell checking mechanism isn't functioning correctly, we are potentially at greater risk. I would like my immune system to be in tip top shape so I'm not taking any chances. Research on the role of Vitamin D continues but early indications are strong enough that guidelines for Vitamin D have been increased.

Several years ago, I was getting sick often - so often that I went on a personal quest to sort out the issue and with my background fortunate enough to get to the root of the issue quickly. Yes, I was one of the many whose Vitamin D level was exceptionally low; a little surprising to me because I ate tuna and whole eggs and live in Southern California. After requesting a blood test, my doctors acknowledged my low level and recommended taking daily supplements in such small amounts that it would have been impossible for my levels to ever normalize.  My own research with Vitamin D experts internationally put me back on the right course and feeling much better.

Remember to have your levels rechecked if taking higher than the new recommended doses to get your level back to normal and work with your doctor. Toxic Vitamin D levels can result from excess intake. The only way to know before it's too late is to have a blood test. In fact, always talk to your doctor when taking Vitamins (especially A, D, E and K), minerals and other supplements at levels beyond daily recommended levels. Too much of a good thing isn't always better.

How much Vitamin D is recommended? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) set the following new recommendations for vitamin D:
  • Ages 1-70: 600 international units (IUs) per day. Older than 71:800 IUs. The IOM previously said 200 IUs was adequate for people aged 50 and younger, 400 IU for people aged 51-70, and 600 IUs for people older than 70.
  • The tolerable upper limit (UL) is 4000 IUs for ages 9 and above (up from 2000 IU in the IOM's previous guidance).
  • The IOM's calcium recommendations, based on age, range from 700 to 1300 milligrams (mg) daily with a tolerable upper limit range of 1000-3000 mg.

Nutrients interact with one another so it is key to keep them in balance. If your Vitamin D level is low, you may see a higher level of calcium on your blood test - still normal but higher. This is because Vitamin D helps your bones to absorb calcium. If your blood calcium level is in the higher end of the normal range, it may not be reaching your bones. More on the relationship and new calcium recommendations in my next posting..


About Me

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First trained as a food chemist and nutritionist, my career began enriching a Twinkie, comparing the nutrition of a Twinkie to an apple and studying the role of sugar in the diet. With an M.B.A. and years in food and pharma understanding consumers and manufacturers, I'm back to where I started - food should taste great and serve to keep us healthy. To do so, there needs to be consumer awareness. Consumers need to vote for what they want by buying what they really want. If they buy impulsively, that's what they will see more of. They need to practice balance and responsible choices. That's when change will come. Please engage me with your conversation so that I can help you make and stick to better food choices that you enjoy. You'll gain a deeper appreciation of food not only from farm to table but farm to health. My vision is to promote solutions for healthful food and food practices you can happily embody and embrace!