Health Report: Fairbanks Memorial Hospital offers advice on avoiding vitamin D deficiency

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 4:09 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With daylight coming around less and less during these winter months, the possibility for vitamin D deficiency increases.

According to Dr. Haley Turner, an M.D. with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, even on sunny days during the winter in the Interior, vitamin D can be a rare commodity.

“It’s pretty substantial as far north as we are,” Dr. Turner explained, “because as we all know, one of the first things we talk about is how dark it gets up here - and a lot of people think that if they go out during those hours of light, that counteracts that. Unfortunately it doesn’t because the direction that the sun hits us during these few months, whether it’s present for two hours or three hours, it’s not the same as two to three hours of light exposure in the summer. So one, it’s very very dark as we all know, and those few days where we get those brilliant ‘sun showers’ as they were, that sun’s not actually penetrating ozone out here to give us any adequate light absorption. That’s how vitamin D gets made into its active form in our bodies, so if we’re not getting that light exposure then we don’t have any activation of vitamin D basically for all those months that we call the ‘dark days.’”

Vitamin D serves several functions in the body including bone development, for which vitamin D is crucial.

“Most commonly when people think about vitamin D deficiency, they think about poor bone health,” Dr. Turner elaborated. “We talk about that substantially in pregnant patients and kids because they’re having such rapid bone development during that time and it can make malformed bones and weak bones. But that happens as well in our older population, just because of the way that the calcium gets deposited. So you kind of make bones that look like sponges when you don’t get good vitamin D.”

Dr. Turner continued, “It’s also been researched [that] vitamin D is a pretty permissive vitamin, and so it helps with blood cell formation and proper glucose absorption. It also helps with correct hormone channels opening in the brain. People can feel fatigued, they can have muscle cramps, even susceptible to getting a cold more often than people who have adequate amounts of vitamin D.”

However, solving the problem is relatively easy according to Dr. Turner. “It’s really as simple as supplementing. Generally speaking, what I tell my patients to do is to take about 1000 units - which is written right on the bottle - 1000 units of vitamin D from Halloween until Easter. Then generally speaking, my patients that are older than 50, I have them taking 2000 units of vitamin D because as it is, their body doesn’t use it as well and once we get a little bit older we need a little bit more lift than a younger patient.”

Dr. Turner continued, “1000-2000 units of vitamin D is adequate. There are very few times where you need more than that and that would be directed by a physician. You can overdose on vitamin D, there are effects of taking too much of it. So stick 1000-2000 units of vitamin D unless directed otherwise.”

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