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Expert Advice on The Vitamin D Dilemma

by Rona Berg

Now that it’s finally (almost) summer, and the sun is shining, we can count on getting a regular dose of vitamin D. It isn’t easy to get what you need from your diet, which is why many of us take supplements. We asked Romy Block, MD, and Arielle Levitan, MD, authors of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health and founders of Vous Vitamins to help us understand how to get what we need.

 What’s the best way to prevent becoming Vitamin D deficient?

Vitamin D deficiency is very common today, but the good news is there are ways to prevent this from happening. The best way it is to take a daily vitamin D supplement. How much to take varies depending upon your health history, age and lifestyle; however, typically most people should take between 800 and 1,000 IUs daily of vitamin D3, which is the vitamin’s most active form.

What is considered a normal range?

There are varying beliefs about what considered a healthy vitamin D range, but we currently recommend vitamin D levels between 40 and 50 ng/mL. The data suggest that both too little and too much vitamin D can have detrimental effects. It’s essential to get the correct amount for your individual needs.

What problems can arise with a deficiency?

Vitamin D plays a critical role in so many bodily functions from calcium absorption to muscle health to keeping your immune system strong, so as you might imagine, a deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms and health problems. We often see fatigue, muscle aches, migraines, thinning hair and brittle nails among patients with a vitamin D deficiency. Other nutrient deficiencies can contribute to these issues, too.

In the summer, we’re out in the sun more, shouldn’t that be enough?

While the main source of vitamin D is sunlight (your body makes this vitamin when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun), it is difficult to get adequate amounts from sunshine. To obtain vitamin D from the sun, we have to have direct sun exposure and not be wearing protective clothing or sunscreen (this is ill-advised due to skin cancer risks). Many people, even those with plenty of daily sunshine year round, do not absorb vitamin D adequately. We recommend supplementing vitamin D all year to build up and sustain adequate levels.

What should you do if you find out your vitamin D is low?

The most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body is a simple blood test administered by your doctor. If your test shows your levels are low, start taking a good quality vitamin D3 supplement regularly. Depending upon your overall health, you may need to supplement other nutrients, and in that case, we recommend taking a personalized multivitamin that provides you with the proper nutrients and the necessary amounts to meet your individual needs.

What other nutrients does the body need, especially in summer, and why?

The heat, humidity and sun can rob your body of important nutrients. In addition to supplementing vitamin D, we suggest adding iron, B12 and iodine, particularly for women, during the summer. Also, those who are more active – even only slightly – during the warmer months are likely to experience some dehydration. Adding magnesium and getting adequate amounts of sodium, calcium and potassium can help replenish electrolytes lost to overexertion.

Romy Block, MD, specializes in endocrinology and metabolism and is mother to three elementary age boys. Arielle Levitan, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician with a special interest in preventive medicine and women’s health. She is a mother of three active adolescents. They are the authors of the award-winning book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health.

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