Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vitamin D: You Make Me Happy When Skies are Grey

Vitamin D: a fat-soluble vitamin that can be manufactured by the human body in the presence of sunlight, and that has many functions within the body.

With my prenatal bloodwork, my midwife had my Vitamin D levels tested, and it was 31. Levels of less than 30 are considered deficient, and many experts believe that 50 or above is much better, with 80 or above being great. I was surprised to be "low" since I was taking vitamins that included D (approximately 600 IUs, which is marked on the vitamin label as 150% of the recommended daily allowance) and do spend time outdoors without sunscreen.

She recommended a supplement of 5,000-10,000 IUs a day to help me catch up, as well as a smaller supplement for Tobias, since I was likely deficient during the last almost 3 years in which I have been pregnant and/or nursing. I am curious what a few months of this supplement will do for my Vitamin D levels, and I plan on getting them re-tested if it is not cost-prohibitive. (Update: after taking daily supplements of ~8,000 IUs, my Vitamin D blood levels rose to 50-something a few weeks before my due date)

Why is Vitamin D important?
  • Important for bone health
  • Good for the immune system. Low levels of Vitamin D during the winter due to less sunlight may be one of the reasons for "flu season".
  • Babies born with low Vitamin D levels are six times more likely to get RSV. Taking a supplement while pregnant can reduce the risk of this happening.
  • Babies born with low Vitamin D levels are more likely to experience childhood dental problems. Tobias has some tooth decay between his front teeth that will likely require some pricey fixing (at his age they would have to put him out to fill it); perhaps Vitamin D supplements during my pregnancy with him would have made this less likely to happen.
  • Levels of higher than 40-60 ng/ml are likely to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  • Low levels of Vitamin D contribute to high cholesterol and cardiovascular problems

Supplement, Salmon, or Sun?
  • The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that adults take 1,000 IUs per day during the winter.
  • This article from Harvard Medical School states that if you live above the 37th parallel, you are not getting much Vitamin D from the sun, except in the summer months.
  • Salmon, mackerel, and tuna provide 200-360 IUs of Vitamin D per serving
  • Your body can generate 10,000 IUs of Vitamin D during a day at the beach. Vitamin D is an oil-soluble substance that is manufactured on the surface of your skin, and soap breaks up oils so they can wash away. Avoid soaping up your entire body after your beach adventure, or you might lose a lot of the benefits. Water will not wash away the Vitamin D.
  • Older people's skin is not nearly as efficient at producing Vitamin D, and dark-skinned people also do not get as much from the sun.
  • If you're not sure whether or not to supplement, you can always get your blood levels tested. All the published incidences of too much Vitamin D involved doses of over 40,000 IUs a day, so it is unlikely you'd get too much by taking a supplement.
  • Vitamin D supplements are available in an inexpensive, almost tasteless drop form.
I wish I had found out more about Vitamin D sooner! I'm glad that it is such an easy and cheap thing to improve about our family's health. We don't like to think about it now, but the dark winter months always follow summer, so look into Vitamin D!

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