Wherever one looks these days, vitamin D is labeled as practically the Holy Grail of good health. But the natural source of vitamin D is from the sun, which causes a dilemma for us all. Too much sun can mean courting skin cancer, but not enough may cause a vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in dark-skinned African Americans and anyone with similar skin tones. The reason is that melanin limits the amount of sunlight exposure penetrating the skin.
And not having enough vitamin D could raise your risk of developing several conditions including cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis, says Asha Thomas, M.D, the director of the Sinai Hospital Division of Endocrinology.
Think swallowing a daily multi-vitamin means you are covered? Think again.
“Multi-vitamins typically have 400 units of vitamin D,” Dr. Thomas says. “That might be appropriate if you already have normal levels of vitamin D. But we are finding most people are deficient. So many people are way too low.”
Only relatively recently did people even know what their vitamin D level was. “Physicians just recently started checking people’s,” says Dr. Thomas.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 36 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Researchers believe that number could be double for African Americans. In fact, vitamin D deficiency has been called “the hidden epidemic” for darker-skinned people.
“There is a higher incidence of vitamin D deficiency in African Americans starting in puberty and older,” Dr. Thomas says. Reasons could be because it is the time young people stop playing outdoors or other lifestyle reasons, she says.
Getting your vitamin D from the sun or supplements is a personal choice and both will work. But check with your doctor to find out where you stand with vitamin D and how much sun to get or supplements to take.
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