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Research finds higher levels needed of vitamin D

by Rebekah Feemster
Dietetic Intern
If you take interest in the world of current nutrition research, or even just watch the evening news, there is a good chance you’ve heard something about vitamin D and calcium in relation to bone health. This may seem like old news, but new research is showing previously recommended intake levels of these nutrients to be inadequate. This is especially important considering 55 percent of Americans  age 50 and older already have osteoporosis or have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for developing the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
In the past, vitamin D has been ignored in conversations about osteoporosis, despite its critical role in calcium absorption. Now, the public eye has shifted to vitamin D reference intakes. Current recommendations are 200 IU/day for adults age 19-50 and 400 IU/day for adults age 51-70. However, the latest research is showing that amounts of up to 2,000 IU a day may be beneficial in helping decrease risk of osteoporosis.
While your body actually makes its own vitamin D from sunlight; other factors such as age, skin tone, geographic location and amount of sun exposure affect how much your body makes. The use of sunscreen also significantly decreases the body’s ability to produce vitamin D. Because of a fear of increased cancer risk from sunlight and the resulting increase of sunscreen, many people are not obtaining optimum vitamin D from the sun. While vitamin D is found in small amounts in foods such as some fish, egg yolks, and liver, and is fortified into other products such as milk, orange juice, and cereals, the amount of vitamin D in foods is not enough to meet one’s needs. Thus, research is finding the majority of people require supplementation.
It is important not to neglect what we also know about calcium in this recent vitamin D hype. Getting enough calcium, whether through diet or supple-mentation, is crucial for good bone health. When your body does not get enough calcium from what you eat, it withdraws the calcium it needs from your bones, making them more porous and less dense, and therefore, more likely to break. Current calcium recommendations are 1,000 mg/day for adults age 19-50 and 1,200 mg/day for people over age 50. This can be met by consuming three to four servings of dairy per day (8 ounces of milk/yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese are considered one serving). Since your body can typically only absorb about 500-600 mg of calcium at a time, it is best to spread calcium intake throughout the day.
In today’s food supply, fortification (the addition of one or more nutrients to a food to increase its nutritional value), has become quite common. Several foods are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, making it even easier for us to increase our consumption of these nutrients. All milk is fortified with about 25 percent of your daily value of vitamin D, and contains 30 percent of your daily calcium. Several orange juice brands add calcium and vitamin D to some of their products, including Florida’s Natural, Tropicana, and Minute Maid. Yogurt brands such as Yoplait, Breyer’s, Stoneyfield and Dannon offer fortified products. Even Shedd’s Country Crock Spread now offers a calcium plus vitamin D version. There are many options to choose from. Just be sure to check your nutrition facts label to see if products contain the calcium and vitamin D that you’re looking for.
So what are you waiting for? Take the health of your bones into your own hands. Take the initiative to consume three to four servings of dairy each day, gets adequate sunlight, and ask your doctor about supplementation. Also, be sure to watch for the official report of updated vitamin D recommendations coming out in May so that you can be equipped to maximize the potential of your bone growth and preserve and improve your current bone health.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.