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Vitamin D Deficit: Women's Silent Bone Threat

Lack of Vitamin D May Be Overlooked in Postmenopausal Women With Osteoporosis
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WebMD Health News

May 20, 2005 -- When building bones and curbing osteoporosis, don't forget about vitamin D, says a new study.

Bones need vitamin D for optimal health, but doctors may overlook vitamin D deficiency in patients with osteoporosis, say the researchers, who included Anne de Papp, MD, FACE, an assistant clinical professor at Thomas Jefferson University's medical school.

Their findings were presented in Washington, D.C. at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists' 14th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress.

Falling Short on Vitamin D

The study included 1,554 postmenopausal U.S. women being treated for osteoporosis. Most were healthy and well educated. They were 71 years old, on average, and most (92%) were white.

More than half of the women (52%) had less-than-optimal levels of vitamin D, says the study.

Surveys revealed their risk. A major problem was not getting enough vitamin D. Among women who got less than 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, 63% had vitamin D shortfalls. Vitamin D deficiency was seen in a smaller percentage (45%) of those who received at least 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

Vitamin D deficiency was associated with advanced age (older than 80 years), nonwhite race, obesity (body mass index of more than 30), use of medications affecting vitamin D levels -- (such as some seizure, antifungal, and cholesterol-lowering drugs), lack of exercise, and lower education level (less than 12th grade).

Off Doctors' Radar?

The study also showed that women were more likely to have vitamin D deficiency if their doctors hadn't counseled them before about vitamin D. Doctors need to pay more attention to vitamin D status and talk about it with their postmenopausal osteoporosis patients, say the researchers.

Of course, men can also get osteoporosis, and everyone needs vitamin D.

People need more vitamin D as they get older, says the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. The Office of Dietary Supplements says adequate daily intake for men and women is:

  • Ages 19-50: 200 IU
  • Ages 51-70: 400 IU
  • After 70: 600 IU

Sources of Vitamin D

The body can make vitamin D in sunlight. About 10-15 minutes of sunshine -- without sunscreen -- two to three times a week does the job, says the Office of Dietary Supplements.

But don't overdo it. Be good to your skin with sun protection the rest of the time.

Vitamin D is also found in foods including eggs, liver, and fortified foods (including milk). Here's a quick look at the vitamin D content of several items:

  • Cod liver oil (one tablespoon): 1,360 IU
  • Salmon (3.5 ounces, cooked): 360 IU
  • Milk (one cup, any fat level): 98 IU
  • Ready-to-eat cereal with 10% of Daily Value for vitamin D (one serving): 40 IU
  • Egg (one): 20 IU (vitamin D is found in the yolk)
  • Beef liver (3.5 ounces, cooked): 15 IU
  • Swiss cheese (1 ounce): 12 IU

Some Need Extra Help

People may have a harder time making vitamin D if they are older, live in northern climates, have greater skin protection because of their race, or have limited sun exposure. They should make sure their diet meets their vitamin D needs, says the Office of Dietary Supplements.

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