Vitamin D: What Your Dermatologist Wants You to Know
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Vitamin D is an important chemical that helps your body maintain strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D helps the body to use calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that are necessary for healthy bones.
Your body naturally produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. You also can obtain
vitamin D through fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice, and fatty fish, or by taking a vitamin D supplement.
WHY ARE DERMATOLOGISTS CONCERNED ABOUT VITAMIN D?
Some people intentionally seek out the sun to get vitamin D.
While everyone needs vitamin D for healthy bones, the American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend getting vitamin D from the sun or tanning beds. Doing so increases your risk of getting skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Current estimates are that at least one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during his or her lifetime. One person dies from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every hour in the United States.
WHY IS VITAMIN D IMPORTANT?
Vitamin D increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for bone health.
Getting enough vitamin D and calcium are essential to prevent osteoporosis in men and women who are 50 years of age and older. Osteoporosis causes the bones to thin and increases the risk of a fracture.
In children, low levels of vitamin D can result in rickets, a medical condition that causes soft, deformed bones.
HOW DO I GET VITAMIN D?
You can get vitamin D from a healthy diet, which includes naturally enriched vitamin D foods, fortified foods, and
beverages. You can also take a vitamin supplement.
Good food sources include fortified milk, cheeses and yogurt, fortified cereal, and oily fish like salmon and tuna. Research shows that vitamin D supplements are well tolerated, safe, and effective when taken as directed by a doctor. Vitamin D from food and dietary supplements offers the same benefits — without the danger of skin cancer — as
vitamin D obtained from UV light. Vitamin D cannot be used by the body until it is processed by the liver and the kidneys. The usable form of vitamin D created by this process is the same, regardless of how it enters the body.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D DO I NEED?
To keep our bones healthy, we need a minimum daily dose of vitamin D.
The following table shows the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D as set by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM).
0 – 12 months
400 International Units (IU)
1 – 70 years
600 International Units (IU)
800 International Units (IU)
Men and women require the same amount of vitamin D. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding do not need additional vitamin D.
Taking more units of vitamin D than is recommended for your age is not necessarily better. Research has found that high amounts of vitamin D can be harmful. Our bodies store the vitamin D that we cannot use. Over time, this vitamin D can build up and cause problems with the normal functioning of the body, resulting in high blood pressure and even kidney damage.
DOES VITAMIN D HELP PREVENT CERTAIN CANCERS?
While some studies have suggested that vitamin D can reduce deaths from cancer and/or improve cancer survival,
other studies have not been able to confirm these observations.
The IOM reviews all studies on vitamin D and has concluded that there is evidence to link a person’s vitamin D level to their bone health. However, the IOM does not believe there is enough evidence linking vitamin D with other health benefits.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN D?
If you are concerned about how much vitamin D your body needs, talk with your dermatologist or another doctor.
It’s important to know before taking a supplement that vitamin D can react with some medicines, causing possible side effects. In addition, taking certain medicines increases the amount of vitamin D that you need. Therefore, it’s best to talk with a medical doctor before taking any vitamin D supplements.
If you’d like your doctor to test your vitamin D levels, this can be done with a blood test.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating the medical, surgical, and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
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Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
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