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Is Everyone Vitamin D Deficient?

Is Everyone Vitamin D Deficient?

The Rumor: We’ve underestimated how much vitamin D we really need — and most people don’t get enough.

Recent studies blame everything from poor memory to cancer on having a low amount of vitamin D in the bloodstream. The official guideline for vitamin D supplementation is set at 600 IU per day, but some say that amount is too low and claim we need much as 20,000 IU each week to beat vitamin D deficiency. So who’s right?

The Verdict: We could probably all use more vitamin D – but no one dose fits all.

Back in the 1930s in the U.S., fortifying milk with vitamin D all but eradicated rickets, a bone-deforming condition that once affected millions of American children. Once scientists identified vitamin D deficiency as the cause of the disease, adding the vitamin to the leading beverage for toddlers was a no-brainer.

But today, understanding how much vitamin D we need isn’t as cut and dry. The official Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is 600 IU a day; this amount helps with bone growth and calcium absorption. Regular exposure to sunlight (which causes the body to produce vitamin D) or daily intake of foods high in vitamin D — such as cheese, fatty fish and fortified orange juice and milk — was thought to provide enough vitamin D for most people.

However, a growing number of experts have found that the casual consumption of vitamin D isn’t enough to keep a healthy level of the nutrient circulating in the blood.

“Just about everyone is deficient in vitamin D today,” says Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., MD, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Holick, who consumes 20,000 IU of vitamin D a week, says that trying to get that same dose from sunlight alone would mean lying in the sun in a bathing suit for at least a half hour every single day of the year. Obviously, that kind of Baywatch-like lifestyle is unrealistic (and not ideal for those with skin-cancer issues).

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recognizes that plenty of people aren’t getting enough vitamin D; they’ve identified risk groups who may need supplements. If you have dark skin, are of Asian, African or Middle-Eastern descent, live in a region that receives less sunlight, regularly wear sunscreen SPF 8 or higher, are a breastfeeding mother, have celiac or Crohn’s disease or live above the 37-degree latitude line (that’s roughly from Philadelphia to San Francisco), you may fit the NIH’s criteria for a supplement.

To further complicate matters, experts can’t agree on what, exactly, vitamin D helps protect us from. The IOM concluded that vitamin D is definitely needed for bone strength. Studies show it also may protect us from certain cancers, autoimmune disorders and Alzheimer’s.

“Vitamin D receptors are in every cell of our body and we’ve already identified over 80 metabolic processes that are dependent on it,” says Dr. Holick. The NIH points out that a “growing body of research suggests that vitamin D might play a role in the prevention and treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions.”

That said, too much vitamin D comes with its own risks. High consumptions have been associated with kidney damage and even an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

So: Do you need more vitamin D — and if so, how much? “Everyone is different, with a different weight, sun exposure and eating habits,” says Perry Holman, executive director of the Vitamin D Society in Canada. “[Everyone’s] bodies use the vitamin D differently. So you cannot give one dosage recommendation for everyone.” You may want to consider a dose that falls somewhere between the IOM’s recommended 600 IU per day and the NIH’s recommended maximum of 4,000 IU. Ask your doctor what’s healthiest for you.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.