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What you need to know about vitamin D

December 9, 2008 | 10:43 am

VitdThe new star of the nutritional world is clearly vitamin D. Most people don't get enough of this wonder nutrient and increase their risk of several diseases by being deficient. In the last month, several major medical groups have called for a range of policy changes regarding vitamin D, including an increase in the current recommended daily allowance and new testing guidelines to look for deficiencies. Here's an update:

  • A group of 18 vitamin D researchers at the University of California has issued a "call to action" recommending that the daily intake of vitamin D for adults be revised by the government to 2,000 international units a day. (The current recommendation is 200 IU for people up to age 50, 400 IU for people 51 to 70 and 600 IU for people 70 and older.) "While more research on this topic is highly desirable, it should not delay recommending a 2,000 IU daily intake of vitamin D for most people," a member of the consortium, Dr. Anthony Norman, said in a news release. An editorial on vitamin D by Norman, a UC Riverside biochemist, was published on Monday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • A review article published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology includes recommendations for screening for vitamin D deficiency and treatment in people with cardiovascular disease. The recommendations are needed, according to the authors of the paper, because of the growing body of evidence that links vitamin D deficiency to cardiovascular problems. They say that cardiovascular patients with a deficiency should receive 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 or D3 (forms of the vitamin) once a week for eight to 12 weeks followed by maintenance therapy.
  • In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a recommendation that the amount of vitamin D for infants, children and adolescence should be doubled to 400 IU a day.
    • Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke and some types of cancer.

      "Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging cardiovascular risk factor, which should be screened for and treated," Kansas City cardiologist James H. O'Keefe, a co-author of the JACC article, said in a news release. "Vitamin D is easy to assess, supplementation is simple, safe and inexpensive."

      Optimal levels of vitamin D can be achieved by a combination of sunlight, supplements and foods such as fish, eggs and cod liver oil. Foods such as milk and some cereals are fortified with vitamin D but at levels that aim for 400 IU a day -- which is now thought to be much too low. Vitamin D toxicity (taking too much) is rare but is possible if the intake is greater than 20,000 IU per day.

      --Shari Roan

      Photo credit: Perry C. Riddle / Los Angeles Times