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Why a U.S. Epidemic in Vitamin D Deficiency - Calcium

Updated on October 21, 2010

Vitamin D Deficiency Is Now Epedemic in the U.S.

Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as an epidemic in the United States.

The major source of vitamin D for both children and adults is from sensible sun exposure.

Vitamin Supplements

New research suggests that most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. With approximately three quarters of US teens and adults deficient in vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine vitamin,” the resulting health risks are tremendous. Deficient levels of vitamin D are increasingly being blamed for everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and arthritis.

This rise in vitamin D deficiency is, in part, due to our increased use of sunscreen and long sleeves, following the skin cancer prevention campaigns that have rightfully changed the way Americans view sun exposure. Using a sunscreen with as little as 15 SPF cuts the skins vitamin D production by 99 percent and there are few sources of the vitamin in our diets.

Vitamin D is the only vitamin that is also a hormone. After vitamin D is made in the skin or eaten, the kidney and liver help to convert it into an active hormone. As a hormone, it then controls our body’s ability to absorb calcium. It also helps to maintain muscle strength. When you are deficient in calcium and vitamin D, your bones break down to supply the needed calcium to the rest of your body.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low bone mass and osteoporosis because vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from the diet. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked with poor muscle strength and other chronic conditions, such as autoimmune disease and some forms of cancer.

Vitamin D and Calcium Regulation

The role of Vitamin D in Calcium Regulation
The role of Vitamin D in Calcium Regulation

The role of Vitamin D is shown in orange.

Dietary supplements and Vitamin D deficiency.

How much vitamin D do we need? Nutritional Supplements.

Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. For example, almost all of the US milk supply is fortified with 100 IU/cup of vitamin D. Other dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream, are generally not fortified. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals often contain added vitamin D, as do some brands of orange juice, yogurt, and margarine. In the United States, foods allowed to be fortified with vitamin D include cereal flours and related products, milk and products made from milk, and calcium-fortified fruit juices and drinks.

So, how much vitamin D do we actually need? Current recommendations are woefully inadequate and range from 200 IU for infants up to 600 IU for senior citizens. Current thinking in the medical and scientific communities is that boosting daily vitamin D intake to as much as 10,000 IU could yield significant health benefits.

Your body can’t create vitamin D on its own. Instead, it’s designed to make it through sun exposure. In theory, you can make an ample supply of vitamin D with as little as a couple of hours per week in the sun – provided the UVB rays are strong enough. You can also ingest D through food, especially fatty fish like wild-harvested salmon. Plus, lots of foods are fortified nowadays, so vitamin D deficiency should be an easy problem to solve, right? But the truth is, we’re just not getting enough, and so many of us aren’t even close. Vitamin supplements may be the only way some of us will get enough vitamin D.

Here are some points to keep in mind:

  1. The best source of vitamin D is the sun. The body does not produce vitamin D on its own.
  2. Some foods, such as dairy products and some cereals, are fortified with vitamin D, but it is impossible to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone.
  3. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of 18 different types of cancer, including breast and prostate malignancies. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to increased incidence of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, particularly in children.
  4. Few people get enough vitamin D from sunlight.
  5. Remember that 10 to 15 minutes in the summer sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. naturally provides your body with 10,000 IUs of vitamin D. Apply sunscreen after you’ve soaked up 10 minutes of rays so that you balance the need for vitamin D and skin protection.
  6. Eat foods either naturally rich in or fortified with vitamin D.
  7. Take vitamin supplements.

Tips & Warnings:

If you are prone to kidney stones or have another chronic health condition, check with your physician before taking vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D increases the body’s absorption of calcium, which can aggravate the development of kidney stones in those who are prone to them.

Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D
Vitamin D


Submit a Comment
  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Thanks Daniel, I agree ... people need to know this information. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Daniel V. profile image

    Daniel V. 

    8 years ago from Romania

    I don't know how many people really know these details. Thanks for the tips, this worth sharing.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    CMHypno, there are so many countries that are experiencing this same problem. It's sad because people aren't being made aware of the dangers of NOT getting a little bit of sun. We are so conditioned now to cover up and wear sun screen ALL the time. You're right, we only need a few minutes of exposure to produce the needed Vitamin D.

    When I first found out that I was severely deficient in vitamin D, my doctor put me on a prescription. He had me taking 50,000 IU once a week, but when I went to the health food store they game me a lower dose that can be taken daily. I kind of think the daily supplement might be better because it will give a steady supply rather than peaks and valleys. Anyway, with sun at a minimum in the UK, you might want to talk to your health care provider about supplements for the winter.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • CMHypno profile image


    9 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    This is a problem in the UK also, as we are too far north to be able to be able to produce Vitamin D in the skin during the winter. Skin does need exposure to the skin without sunscreen, but only for a few minutes. Very interesting Hub.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Very true mailxpress. We need a moderate amount of sun exposure to produce the needed Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has become an extreme problem in the US as well as many other countries.

  • mailxpress profile image

    Michelle Cesare 

    9 years ago from New York

    Interesting read. I would think that taken vitamin D supplements in the winter would be helpful and a good balance. I understand the concern with skin cancer but not having any sun at all can be detrimental to our health.


  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks fastfreta. I agree, it's startling to find out how huge this problem has become. The health consequences are serious, yet we don't hear much about it. I appreciate you sharing my article!

  • fastfreta profile image

    Alfreta Sailor 

    9 years ago from Southern California

    Very good advice. I agree with your assessment of the condition of the population as pertaining to the lack of vitamin D. I've been reading more and more about that these days. I'm going to recommend this hub to be read by Digging and Stumbling it.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks Micky Dee, vitamin D deficiency is becoming too prevalent in our country.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    9 years ago

    Very good message! Very under-appreciated vitamin. Thanks Lamme!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    RTalloni, I'll definitely do that. I was surprised to learn how widespread the problem is and it seems very little information is going out to the public. You'd think with the health issues at risk it would be something doctors would routinely discuss with their patients. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion, I think it's a great idea.

  • RTalloni profile image


    9 years ago from the short journey

    Maybe you could ask him why dermatologists don't address this issue with patients and let us know! This is a confusing issue because they evidently do not consider it important and not all dermatologists agree on it. But it's important. Am very interested in any more info you can share.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    RTalloni, I think a hub on the differences of D2 and D3 would be an excellent idea. When I talked to my doctor about my particular situation, I was very surprised to learn that my use of sunscreen actually contributed to my deficiency. I live in sunny FL and walk daily, but I wasn't getting the sun exposure I needed. I now take supplements and try to get a little sun before putting on sunscreen.

  • RTalloni profile image


    9 years ago from the short journey

    This topic has been of interest to me lately for several reasons and I've considered writing about it. Thanks for a good summary.

    Have you been able to speak with a dermatologist re the fact that sun screens block vitamin D? Have you studied the differences in D2 and D3?

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks thevoice. I didn't realize what a widespread problem vitamin d deficiency was until I was tested.

  • thevoice profile image


    9 years ago from carthage ill

    terrific hub detail thanks


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