The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D

What is it?

Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals calcium and phosphorus found in the body. It also plays an important role in maintaining proper bone structure.

Sun exposure is an easy, reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for about one-fourth of the time it would take to develop a mild sunburn will cause the skin to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, etc. Just 6 days of casual sunlight exposure without sunscreen can make up for 49 days of no sunlight exposure. Body fat acts like a kind of storage battery for vitamin D. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

Vitamin D deficiency is more common than you might expect. People who don’t get enough sun, especially people living in Canada and the northern half of the US, are especially at risk. However, even people living in sunny climates might be at risk, possibly because people are staying indoors more, covering up when outside, or using sunscreens to reduce skin cancer risk.

Older people are also at risk for vitamin D deficiency. They are less likely to spend time in the sun, have fewer “receptors” in their skin that convert sunlight to vitamin D, may not get vitamin D in their diet, may have trouble absorbing vitamin D even if they do get it in their diet, and may have more trouble converting dietary vitamin D to a useful form due to kidney problems. In fact, some scientists suggest that the risk for vitamin D deficiency in people over 65 years of age is very high. As many as 40% of older people living in sunny climates such as South Florida might not have optimal amounts of vitamin D in their systems.

Vitamin D supplements may be necessary for older people, people living in northern latitudes, and for dark-skinned people who need extra time in the sun, but don’t get it. Talk to your health care provider about whether a supplement is best for you.

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The Effectiveness ratings for Vitamin D are as follows:

  • A rare, inherited bone disorder marked by low levels of phosphate in the blood (familial hypophosphatemia). Taking vitamin D in forms known as calcitriol or dihydrotachysterol by mouth along with phosphate supplements is effective for treating bone disorders in people with low levels of phosphate in the blood.
  • A rare disorder that can lead to bone and kidney damage (Fanconi syndrome). Taking vitamin D2 by mouth is effective for treating low levels of phosphate in the blood due to a disease called Fanconi syndrome.
  • Underactive parathyroid (hypoparathyroidism). Low levels of parathyroid hormone can cause calcium levels to become too low. Taking vitamin D in forms known as dihydrotachysterol, calcitriol, or ergocalciferol by mouth is effective for increasing calcium blood levels in people with low parathyroid hormone levels.
  • Softening of the bones (osteomalacia). Taking vitamin D3 is effective for treating softening of the bones. Also, taking vitamin D in a form known as calcifediol is effective for treating softening of the bones due to liver disease. In addition, taking vitamin D2 is effective for treating softening of the bones caused by medications or poor absorption syndromes.
  • A bone disorder that occurs in people with kidney disease (renal osteodystrophy). Taking vitamin D in a form known as calcitriol by mouth manages low calcium levels and prevents bone loss in people with kidney failure.
  • Rickets. Vitamin D is effective for preventing and treating rickets. A specific form of vitamin D, calcitriol, should be used in people with kidney failure.
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is effective for preventing and treating vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D also improves symptoms that result from vitamin D deficiency. Taking vitamin D2 by mouth or administering it as a shot into the muscle seems to help treat a muscle disease associated with vitamin D deficiency.

Likely Effective for…

  • Bone loss in people taking drugs called corticosteroids. Taking vitamin D by mouth prevents bone loss in people taking drugs called corticosteroids. Also, taking vitamin D alone or with calcium seems to improve bone density in people with existing bone loss caused by using corticosteroids.
  • Weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis). Taking vitamin D3 along with calcium seems to help prevent bone loss and bone breaks.
  • Psoriasis. Applying vitamin D in the form of calcitriol, calcipotriene, maxacalcitol, or paricalcitol can help treat plaque-type psoriasis. Applying vitamin D along with corticosteroids seems to work better than applying vitamin D or corticosteroids alone. But taking vitamin D by mouth does not seem to improve psoriasis.

Possibly Effective for…

  • Cavities. Analysis of clinical research suggests that taking vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 reduces the risk of cavities by 36% to 49% in infants, children and adolescents.
  • Heart failure. Some early research suggests that people with low vitamin D levels have an increased risk of developing heart failure compared to those with higher vitamin D levels. Some research shows that taking vitamin D supplements can help reduce the risk of developing heart failure in some women. Also, most research suggests that taking vitamin D supplements may decrease the risk of death in people with heart failure.
  • Bone loss in people with overactive parathyroid (hyperparathyroidism-related bone loss). Taking vitamin D3 by mouth seems to reduce parathyroid hormone levels and bone loss in women with a condition called hyperparathyroidism.
  • Infection of the airways. Most research shows that taking vitamin D helps prevent respiratory infections in children and adults. A respiratory infection can be the flu, a cold, or an asthma attack triggered by a cold or other infection. Some research shows that taking vitamin D during pregnancy reduces the risk of these infections in the child after birth. But conflicting results exist.
  • Preventing tooth loss (tooth retention). Taking calcium and vitamin D3 by mouth appears to prevent tooth loss in elderly people.

Possibly Ineffective for…

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