Vitamin D Bone Health

Vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health. Your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium and phosphorus, two key building blocks of strong bones. Without adequate vitamin D intake, bones may be malformed, weakened or more susceptible to fracture.

What is vitamin D, and why is it important? Growing children need vitamin D to build strong bones. In adults, vitamin D helps keep bones strong and healthy. However, despite its importance, many people unknowingly suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. In fact, over one third of U.S. adults may not be getting enough vitamin D, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

What Bone Problems Are Caused by Low Vitamin D?

There are several bone-related conditions connected to low levels of vitamin D. These include:

  • Osteopenia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rickets (called osteomalacia in adults).

There is also some evidence that vitamin D plays a role in osteoarthritis, though there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case.

Rickets and osteomalacia are caused by a severe vitamin deficiency. This deficiency leads to soft or weakened bones. In children, signs of rickets can result in:

  • Bone deformities (such as a curved spine or bow legs)
  • Dental problems
  • Slow motor skills.

Osteoporosis, on the other hand, can be the result of low levels of vitamin over a long period of time. These low vitamin D levels inhibit calcium absorption and, over time, lead to fragile bones that are prone to fracture. Osteopenia is a condition that is characterized by low bone mineral density, but is not as severe as osteoporosis. Low vitamin D is a risk factor for osteopenia.

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get between 200 and 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day. However, some experts recommend higher vitamin D intake, particularly for older adults. The National Osteoporosis Foundation, for example, suggests that adults over the age of 50 get between 800 and 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.

The easiest and most efficient way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. However, some people — including those who live in northern climates or have dark skin — may not be able to able to get enough vitamin D this way. Vitamin D occurs naturally in a few foods, such as:

  • Beef liver
  • Cod liver oil
  • Eggs
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna.

Vitamin D is often added to foods such as milk, juice, margarine and yogurt. However, getting enough vitamin D from diet alone is very difficult, and most people get vitamin D through a combination of sun exposure and dietary sources. Vitamin D supplements are also available.

Resources

Brody, J. (1996). Research hints that vitamins D and C may slow down osteoarthritis. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the New York Times website: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/04/us/research-hints-vitamins-d-and-c-may-slow-down-osteoarthritis.html?fta=y

Marcus, M. (2008). Adults still risk vitamin D deficiency. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the USA Today website: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-06-16-vitamin-d-side_N.htm

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements Staff. (2009). Dietary supplement fact sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp

National Osteoporosis Foundation Staff. (n.d.). Vitamin D and bone health. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from the National Osteoporosis Foundation website: http://www.nof.org/prevention/vitaminD.htm