High Prevalence of Vitamin D Inadequacy and Implications for Health
During the past decade, major advances have been made in vitamin D research that transcend the simple concept that vitamin D is important for the prevention of rickets in children and has little physiologic relevance for adults.
Inadequate vitamin D, in addition to causing rickets, prevents children from attaining their enetically programmed peak bone mass, contributes to and exacerbates osteoporosis in adults, and causes the often painful bone disease osteomalacia. Adequate vitamin D is also important for proper muscle functioning, and controversial evidence suggests it may help prevent type 1 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and many common cancers. Vitamin D inadequacy has been reported in approximately 36% of otherwise healthy young adults and up to 57% of general medicine inpatients in the United States and in even higher percentages in Europe.
Recent epidemiological data document the high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy among elderly patients and especially among patients with osteoporosis. Factors such as low sunlight exposure, age-related decreases in cutaneous synthesis, and diets low in vitamin D contribute to the high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy. Vitamin D production from cutaneous synthesis or intake from the few vitamin D–rich or enriched foods typically occurs only intermittently. Supplemental doses of vitamin D and sensible sun exposure could prevent deficiency in most of the general population. The purposes of this article are to examine the prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and to review the potential implications for skeletal and extraskeletal health.