Saturday, July 14, 2012

What's in a vitamin? (Vitamin D)

During my clinical rotations I had a preceptor who recommended over the counter (OTC) vitamins to almost every patient at each routine physical. At first, I followed blindly, but I decided I would do my due diligence and investigate some commonly recommended vitamins to see if there is actually any evidence that it is worth it to be taking them. I'm going to do this intermittently since it will entirely depend on my mood towards research when I sit down to write. Today, lets talk vitamin D.

Vitamin D:
This one is getting a lot of attention lately among health professionals. A significant portion of the American population is vitamin D deficient, and those with darker skin tones are more likely to be deficient. Vitamin D is naturally obtained through exposure to sunlight or in fatty fish, or egg yolks. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and therefore, here in the USA many foods are fortified with vitamin D such as milk, yogurt, orange juice, and some cereals. 

The primary function of vitamin D is to help absorb calcium from the GI tract. Without vitamin D, we cannot absorb calcium, which affects bone growth and muscle function. Therefore, obvious reason to take vitamin D, if you are deficient, is to keep your bones and muscles function properly.  

However, vitamin D does more than just absorb calcium. Vitamin D has been shown to have effects on the immune system, particularly in regulating the inflammatory response. White blood cells (helper T cells) have vitamin D receptors which allows vitamin D to have an influence on their response to an immune threat. Vitamin D is thought to play a role specifically in respiratory infections - head colds, chest colds, flu, asthma attacks, etc. Several studies have been performed, especially in children and asthmatic patients, showing the positive effects vitamin D has on regulating immune system response and how deficiency can lead to poorer overall health.

Whats even better is that because of the research that has already been performed, more evidence is surfacing about the many roles vitamin D plays in decreased inflammation and increasing regulation of the immune system. It may even play a role in reducing risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer.

With that said, don't go crazy and overdo it. The benefits of vitamin D come only from having a normal level. Excessive levels of vitamin D can cause problems of its own, as with anything. Vitamin D deficiency should be treated, but if your levels are normal, you eat vitamin D fortified foods, and get some exposure to sunlight, there is no need to worry.

Where this info is coming from: 

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