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Menopause Corner
Menopause Corner

Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.

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After a Long Winter, It’s Time to Check Your Vitamin D Level

What's your vitamin D level?In Northern California, where I live, it's been a pretty mild winter with lots of sunny days and temperatures over 60 degrees. But I know that some areas of the country haven’t been so lucky. For many of you, it has probably been several weeks or months since you enjoyed the sunshine, which is what your body needs to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a precursor hormone that is essential for bone health. There’s ample evidence to suggest that it can also help prevent the development of some cancers, contribute to cardiovascular health and stimulate immune responses to infectious diseases.  

The problem is that Vitamin D is not naturally present in many foods. Rather, it is made in our skin upon exposure to UV-B light.  That’s why it’s often referred to as “the sunshine vitamin” and why it’s not uncommon to have lower levels of this important nutrient during the winter season. 

So, if cold temperatures have been keeping you from getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight, at least three times a week (and between the hours of 11am and 4pm), chances are you are not getting an adequate natural dose of this important vitamin and a daily supplement is necessary.

What is an adequate dose?  The answer depends on whom you talk to.  In late 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued new guidelines for Americans and Canadians. They recommended a daily dose of 600IU for those up to 70 years of age. It was much lower than what many doctors, medical groups and Vitamin D researchers thought it should be given the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency.

According to GrassrootsHealth, an organization of leading vitamin D scientists, 40-75 percent of the world's population is Vitamin D deficient. One of those researchers, Dr. Cedric Garland, a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, believes that pending testing, the minimum intake for all men, women and children, one year or older, should be 2000IU/day and adults should be tested every two years, preferably in March.

Now that it's March, have you had your vitamin D level tested?

For a cheap and simple way to get tested, you can go to a commercial laboratory, such as Labcorp, and ask for Vitamin D test - it’s called a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D, or 25(OH)D blood test. Depending on where you live, the test will cost $100-125 and the test result is provided to your doctor.  

A more convenient and less expensive way to find out your Vitamin D level is to order a home test kit, made by ZRT Lab, from the website of the Vitamin D Council for $65. The test result is sent directly to you.

I’ve used this home test kit and I can assure you that it's easy to use and reliable. It's a simple blood spot test that involves a tiny nick of the finger. Everything you need is included in a small box, including the envelope for mailing it back to the lab.

How do you know if you’ve “passed” the test?  The GrassrootsHealth Scientists Panel of forty-one expert vitamin D researchers and medical practitioners believe the evidence shows that a serum (blood) level should be between 40-60ng/ml.  If your Vitamin D level does not fall within that range, you should discuss the test result with your physician to determine a supplement dosage that would bring your number up to this range.

Despite playing tennis several times a week and walking outdoors a lot, my vitamin D level was half of where it should be. So I now take a D supplement every day.  You may need one too.

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About the Author

Wendy writes about women's health in midlife.