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Women: is Vitamin D for you?

By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

How's your Vitamin D intake?

Haven't given it much thought, have you?

Well, if you're a woman approaching 50 who's worried about osteoporosis, it's time to give your D intake a check.

Why D?

Vitamin D is crucial to calcium absorption, according to Dr. Felicia Cosman, Clinical Director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Cosman spoke during a mid-March teleconference on women and Vitamin D intake sponsored by the Society for Woman's Health Research (SWHR).

Without adequate amounts of this fat-soluble vitamin, Cosman said calcium is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines. Vitamin D also aids in the reabsorption of calcium from the kidneys.

In fact, according to the Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis (2004), without an adequate intake of Vitamin D, even meeting the recommended daily calcium intake and performing regular strength training aren't enough to stop bone loss.

"Vitamin D is key to preventing osteoporosis," Cosman said.

How much?

Cosman said that over the age of 50, both men and women need at least 400 international units (IUs) of Vitamin D per day.

At age 70 and above, that number jumps to 600 IUs per day.

"A large number of people who have osteoporosis are at risk ... are deficient in Vitamin D," Cosman said. "People with a Vitamin D deficiency only absorb 10 percent of their calcium intake."

Cosman said it is critical for women who are at risk for osteoporosis to talk to their health care providers about Vitamin D intake.

Are you at risk?

"It's easy to [check] for Vitamin D deficiency with a simple blood test," Cosman said. "But its by no means a routine test. Women and men should not assume their Vitamin D levels are adequate if they have just had recent blood work."

Cosman urged women to talk to their doctors about adding a Vitamin D level screening to their next blood panel, especially if they are at risk for osteoporosis.

Good sources of D

Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted for the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) found that even women who understood the importance of Vitamin D in bone health didn't know the best sources of this crucial vitamin.

"Eighty-two percent [of the 500 women surveyed] believed they were getting enough Vitamin D to protect their bones," Jo Paraish, vice president of communications for SWHR, indicated during the teleconference. "But three-quarters of these women incorrectly identified green leafy vegetables, and half identified citrus fruits, as good sources of Vitamin D."

Cosman said some of the best food sources of Vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, makerel and sardines, and eggs.

"Vitamin D is also found in multivitamin and some calcium supplements," she added.

And though our bodies can manufacture Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, Cosman said the ability to do this diminishes with age.

"Also, because we're trying to protect ourselves from sun exposure through sunscreens and clothing, this ability is [further] compromised," she said.

Cosman said people need not worry about overdosing on Vitamin D, even though it is a fat-soulible element.

"It's very difficult to get too much Vitamin D from over-the-counter supplements and sun exposure," Cosman said. "The upper tolerance limit is several thousand units a day."

Don't become a statistic

Over 10 million American women are estimated to have osteoporosis. Additionally, 230 million are estimated to suffer from osteopina, a bone-thinning condition that can become osteoporosis.

"We want women to be better informed about what they need for bone health," Paraish said, referring to the survey and teleconference sponsored by the SWHR. "We want them to understand the consequences of Vitamin D deficiency."

Check the facts online

For more information on the SWHR survey, and the importance of Vitamin D to bone health, visit