If it seems like you see something new about the benefits of vitamin D every other day, you aren’t alone. Researchers keep discovering how vitamin D improves your health. We’ve known for many years that the “sunshine vitamin” helps make bones strong. Over time, research studies have shown that the vitamin also boosts the immune system, the brain, and the nervous system. It helps prevent adult onset diabetes and supports lung function and cardiovascular health.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and acute respiratory disease. Now, the largest study of its kind suggests that not getting enough vitamin D also increases your risk of colorectal cancer.
Where Do I Get Vitamin D?
You can get vitamin D from three different sources. One is by exposing your skin to sunlight. Exposure to the sun’s UVB rays causes the skin to produce Vitamin D. The problem with this method is that many people worry about their increased risk of skin cancer. All experts don’t agree. Some advise you to wear sunscreen on your face and get fifteen minutes of sunlight on your arms and/or legs each day. Others think any unprotected exposure isn’t worth the risk. You may want to consider one of the other two options instead.
The second way that you get vitamin D is through the foods you eat. Very few foods are naturally high in vitamin D. Some exceptions include fatty fish like tuna and salmon, beef liver, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Other foods, such as milk, cheese, breakfast cereals, and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are often advised to avoid many of these foods including those that are fortified. At the same time, as many as 75% who have been diagnosed with IBS have a vitamin D deficiency. That brings us to the third source.
Vitamin D supplements are a good source for getting the vitamin D you need. It is important to get screened to determine your exact levels. Your doctor will prescribe the right strength to bring your current levels up to normal.
Getting the recommended intake of vitamin D is important for people of all ages. Although your needs will vary depending on your age, everyone from infants to seniors are at risk of having insufficient levels of vitamin D. The U.S. Institute of Medicine updated the recommended intakes in 2010 to:
- 400 IU for infants 0 to 12 months old
- 600 IU for children 1 to 18 years old
- 600 IU for adults up to 70 years old
- 800 IU for adults over 70 years old
- 600 IU for pregnant or lactating women
If you have a gastrointestinal illness like IBS or are at a higher-than-average risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your gastrointestinal specialist about taking vitamin D supplements. He may recommend a high dosage for you.
Who Is at Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?
Everyone has some risk of being vitamin D deficient, but some people are at a greater risk. African Americans and other people with dark skin are at the greatest risk. The melatonin in darker skin tones prevents the skin from absorbing vitamin D from the sun. People who use sunscreen regularly also fall into this category. Blocking out the sun’s rays prevents their skin from being able to produce vitamin D.
People who live in northern latitudes are also at a greater risk. Not only have they been shown to have more vitamin D deficiencies, but also greater death rates from colon cancer. Experts believe this is due to the northern states having weaker UVB rays from the sun.
What the Research Means for You
The research strongly implies a link between vitamin D deficiencies and colorectal cancer. If you aren’t getting the recommended amount of vitamin D, then you aren’t getting any of the benefits the vitamin offers. Ask your primary care doctor if you’ve been screened. You need to know if you can benefit from taking a supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming increasingly common in infants, children, and adults. You could have a deficiency and not have any symptoms. If you have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, finding out your vitamin D levels is even more important. Protecting you from cancer is one of the most important things vitamin D can do. Healthcare providers are doing more to increase awareness of colorectal cancer and for vitamin D deficiency. Do your part and have all of the regular screenings your GI doctor recommends. Schedule an appointment with GI Associates for your or your little one today. We have experienced GI specialists with the knowledge and experience to treat patients of all ages.