Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reasons That Vitamin D May Matter

At least once a week, someone, usually a woman over 50, asks me about vitamin D. Perhaps a routine checkup has revealed a deficiency, prompting the doctor to recommend an over-the-counter supplement or, in severe cases, large prescription doses to correct the problem.

Often, though, the concern is bone health. Without vitamin D, the body cannot properly absorb calcium, and bones become fragile. At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons last month, researchers reported that among 889 adult patients treated for a fracture at a Missouri trauma center, blood levels of vitamin D were “insufficient” in 78 percent and “frankly deficient” in 39 percent. The study group excluded those with known risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

A second report, by doctors in Seoul, South Korea, found vitamin D levels were “significantly lower” among 104 postmenopausal women who had broken a wrist than among 107 age-matched controls without a fracture.

But increasingly I receive inquiries regarding research suggesting that raising blood levels of vitamin D may protect against chronic or life-threatening diseases. Many studies in recent years have linked low levels to health risks like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, prompting many health-conscious men and women to think that supplements of vitamin D are protective.