Ask the Doctor: Why is Vitamin D So Important to My Health?
In the last decade or so, we’ve learned more about the relationship
between vitamin D and human health. As more medical research findings
have come to light, we now know that having enough vitamin D in the body
is crucial for maintaining optimum health and may reduce the risk for
developing some diseases.
How much vitamin D do you need, and how do you get it?
Pulse recently spoke with Kalpana S. Hool, MD, a board-certified internist with
the Torrance Memorial Physician Network, to learn the latest facts on
Why is vitamin D so important?
KH: Vitamin D is essential for health. We’ve known for some time that
vitamin D acts as a hormone in the body and contributes to bone and muscle
health. Vitamin D also helps regulate many processes in the body. Vitamin
D receptors are in many different organs and organ systems, such as the
heart and brain.
Many medical research studies have shown an association between vitamin
D deficiency and the development of colon and breast cancers. Some studies
have also shown an association between vitamin D deficiency and the development
of diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis.
More research needs to be done to fully understand the exact link between
vitamin D deficiency and the development of specific diseases.
What are the sources of vitamin D?
KH: Vitamin D comes in three ways: from supplements, from foods such as vitamin
D-fortified milk and from exposing our skin to sunshine. Most people,
however, are unable to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone. Also
there is the risk of developing skin cancer with too much sun exposure.
And people with darker skin pigmentation and those older than age 70 have
difficulty converting the vitamin D from sunshine into the active form
of vitamin D in the body that is necessary for health.
How often should you get your vitamin D level checked, and what should it be?
KH: For most adults 18 years and older, a serum vitamin D level should be
checked once a year. Based on the results of the test, we can add vitamin
D supplementation as needed. In general:
- Greater than 30 is considered sufficient
- A level of 20–30 is considered low
- Less than 20 is deficient
My goal is to keep most patients at a level of 50, as the current research
shows this may reduce their risk of developing colon and breast cancer
and heart disease.
How much vitamin D should most people take per day?
KH: The recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are:
- For most adults: 600 international units (IUs) per day
- For people over the age of 70: 800 IUs per day
Patients who are deficient in vitamin D will need more. Based on their
serum vitamin D level lab result, we’ll add a high-dose supplement
and recheck their blood level in three months. For example, a person who
has a vitamin D level of 10 would likely be prescribed 50,000 IUs of vitamin
D per week for eight weeks, then have their blood level rechecked in three months.
Patients who don’t know their vitamin D level and decide to take
supplements should not take a dose of more than 4,000 IUs per day as this
can be toxic to the body—it’s too high. If your serum vitamin
D level is greater than 100, that’s dangerous too. High doses of
vitamin D should only be taken on the advice of, and as prescribed by,
What are some of the obvious problems that can come from vitamin D deficiency
KH: Some older adults can develop a condition called osteomalacia. This is
a softening of the bones that comes from low vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed
to help the body absorb calcium into the bones. If you are experiencing
bone or muscle pain, weakness, spasms, numbness and tingling, get your
vitamin D level checked.
Dr. Kalpana Hool practices at 602 Deep Valley Drive, Suite 300 in Rolling
Hills Estates. She can be reached at 310-517-4692.