Doctors Orders On Vitamin D

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POSTED: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - 9:32pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - 10:39pm

Are you tired and rundown? Your problem may have a simple solution. Have your doctor check your vitamin levels.

After a routine physical, Cathy Wood discovered a problem she never even knew was possible. Her vitamin D levels were so low she had to start taking prescription-strength supplements.

"I drink a lot of milk, and I thought my vitamin D levels would be fine," Wood said.

"We're finding that when we measure thousands of patients, the vast majority of them are low," said health and wellness expert Todd Whitthorne.  

"It's sort of epidemic, so to speak, it's not really a disease, like the epidemic that you spread, it's epidemic, everybody seems to be low," said practice physician Dr. Richard Honaker.  

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, because sunlight exposure to skin is the best and only natural source for it. It's known to be essential for bone health, but research shows it's also crucial for fighting all kinds of diseases.

"If you're low on vitamin D, your immune system does not function as well, or you're more susceptible to infections," Honaker said. "There's a greater incidence of heart attacks and strokes in people that are vitamin D deficient versus people who are OK on their vitamin D levels."

Low vitamin D levels are linked to chronic pain, fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and more.

"We work inside, we live inside, if we go outside, we're taught to wear sunscreen because we want to lower the risk of skin cancer, which makes sense," Whitthorne said, "but a sunscreen of SPF 15 or greater blocks 99 percent of the synthesis of vitamin D."

And darker-skinned are more at risk: the American Medical Association says nearly all non-Hispanic blacks and most Mexican-Americans have insufficient vitamin D levels.

"Few foods are either fortified with, or naturally contain vitamin D, so sunshine and supplements are key," said Kristi Nelson, reporter. "How much you need depends on you: your health, your weight, your skin color, or whether or not you use sunblock."

Cathy Wood says she feels healthier since starting vitamin D supplements, which also help her body's calcium.

"In the last two years, I have not had one cold, and I really attribute it to the vitamin D," Wood said.

And this patient reports less muscle aches and pain. Doctors say the current recommended daily doses of vitamin D are actually inadequate, and that just about everyone should be getting more in one form or another.

"I would recommend that every patient, every person in America get their vitamin D checked," said Honaker, "because so many people are low and the ramifications of having low vitamin D are so severe."

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