By Mariah Haddad
Nearly 3,000 miles from the equator, sunlight is scarce in Buffalo. With dark and snowy months taking up about half of the year, residents of the City of Good Neighbors may be at risk for a serious, but easily fixed, health problem.
The body naturally generates vitamin D using sunlight making it a technically pro-hormone, not a vitamin. It can also be consumed by sunlight, food, supplements, injections, and vitamin therapy.
Dr. Jennifer Jennings, owner of Cardea Health in Cheektowaga, uses vitamin D to treat her patients.
“In the winter months, it's impossible to produce vitamin D from the sun if you live north of Atlanta because the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the sky,” Jennings said. “As the sun's UV-B rays hit the skin, a certain reaction takes place that allows the skin cells to produce vitamin D. If you're fair skinned, experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun, between 10 and 2, in shorts and both arms exposed, will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin.”
Maintaining healthy bones and teeth may be the most widely known benefits of vitamin D, yet those are two among many. Vitamin D also promotes a healthy immune system, brain, nervous system, insulin levels, lung function, cardiovascular health, and even influences the expression of genes involved with cancer.
“Vitamin D insufficiency is linked to MS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, HTN, diabetes, mental deterioration in seniors and bone weakness predisposes to fractures,” Jennings said.
Though the “sunshine vitamin” is more efficiently consumed through sunlight, it may also be consumed through particular foods, such as fish, fish oils, mushrooms, beef, cheese, and egg yolks.
“Vitamin D is critical to daily life,” Jennings said. “It is a blood test that I order on every new patient and I regularly follow this critical measurement. Especially in WNY, we are far from the equator and the reduction of sunlight predisposes one to vitamin D deficiency.” The test that measures vitamin D levels is called the 25(OH)D blood test. The test is very common, and most are able to request the blood test at any health care facility.
How much vitamin D is enough? Dr. Kenneth Seldeen is a research assistant professor at the University at Buffalo and has studied vitamin D for five years.
“The department of medicine suggests ~1,000 IU/day for an average adult while most vitamin D researchers would suggest 2,000 IU/day,” Seldeen said. “In contrast, it is estimated that 15-20 minutes of summertime sun exposure would generate about 10,000 IU of vitamin D.”
Though vitamin D is extremely important, so are all vitamins to daily life. “Individual level micronutrients can be very important, especially in deficiency diseases such as rickets for vitamin D, scurvy for vitamin C, vitamin B12 for vegetarians and more,” Seldeen said, These vitamins can be taken as supplements when needed – in the case of vitamin D, on one of those gloomy days.