Vitamin D Necessary for Healthy Bones
by Jennifer Wider, MD
(Washington DC, March 31, 2005 ): "Got milk?" Most women in the United States
understood the message of the widespread and successful advertising campaign
imploring them to increase calcium in their diets. But the message should have
posed an additional question, "Got Vitamin D, too?"
Women over the age of 50 do not fully understand
the role vitamin D plays in keeping their bones healthy, according to a national
survey conducted by the Society for Women's Health Research, a nonprofit advocacy
organization in Washington, D.C. What's more, more than half of those surveyed
hadn't even discussed vitamin D with their doctors.
"Calcium, vitamin D and physical activity
are three key elements in maintaining optimal bone health, especially for
women over 50," said Jo Parrish, the Society's vice president for communications.
While many women are aware of the need for calcium and exercise, a majority
"simply do not associate vitamin D with bone health," Parrish explained.
Osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones
and increases the chances of fracture, affects more than eight million women
in the United States. As women age, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases.
During menopause, bone loss is hastened by the depletion of estrogen, placing
women at high risk for developing the disease.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone
health because it helps the body absorb calcium from the diet. "The relationship
between calcium absorption and vitamin D is similar to that of a locked door
and a key; vitamin D is the key that unlocks the door and allows calcium to
leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream," Parrish said. It also works
in the kidneys, "to help absorb calcium that would otherwise be excreted."
This is the reason that most milk is fortified with Vitamin D. The bad news
is that most American women do not drink enough milk.
In October 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General
issued a report on bone health and osteoporosis for the first time. The report
emphasized the importance of getting enough vitamin D to maintain good bone
health. But most women are unaware of how to increase the amount of vitamin
D in their diets.
"Many women erroneously assume that the foods
they eat contain an adequate amount of vitamin D," Parrish said. But it's
"almost impossible to get the required amount of vitamin D from foods."
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found
in a limited number of foods and can also be manufactured by the body after
sun exposure. "Few foods in an otherwise healthy diet contain vitamin D,"
Parrish said, "with the exception of fortified milk, fortified orange juice,
certain cereals and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines." For most people,
a supplement is usually required to get the right amount in their diets.
The take home message - especially for women over the age of 50 - is to get
enough vitamin D in their diets every day: "Women should talk to their health
care providers about their need for vitamin D and how best to obtain it. Although
it is not a routine test, women can ask for a test to determine their vitamin
D level," Parrish said. "The surgeon general's report recommends that men and
women over the age of 50 get 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day,
and that men and women over the age of 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D per day."
For more information on osteoporosis, click here.
© March 31, 2005 Society for Women's Health
The Society for Women's
Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization
whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded
in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex
differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease,
and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica
Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its
Board of Directors.
Created: 3/31/2005  - Donnica Moore, M.D.