International Osteoporosis Foundation finds populations across the globe suffer from the impact of low levels of vitamin D
by Craig Weatherby
We can’t add much to an alarming June 30 press release from the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF)… which we’ve reprinted below… except to join these bone experts in exhorting people to get enough sun, fatty seafood, and supplements.
Unfortunately, optimal vitamin D blood levels—which, according to the IOF, range from 50nmol/L to 75nmol/L—lie very far above from the American average.
And as we noted in our last issue (see “Vitamin D Shows More Brain Protection Potential”), most vitamin D experts recommend minimum blood levels ranging from 90 to 120 nmol/L—the equivalent of 36 to 48 ng/mL (nanograms per liter)—to enable optimal health.
The high end of the normal range of human vitamin D blood levels extends beyond the proven safe level of 200 nmol/L (80 ng/mL).
And to reach that level, researchers expert in vitamin D recommend taking 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day.
Dietary vitamin D is essential unless you expose most of your skin to strong ultraviolet (UV) sunrays. To create adequate amounts takes from 20 minutes a day (for light skin) to 60 minutes or more (for dark, UV-blocking skin).
The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) includes 194 member societies in 92 countries, regions and territories, and works to advance the understanding of osteoporosis and to promote prevention, diagnosis and treatment worldwide.
Their new announcement stems from a study analyzing existing evidence on worldwide vitamin D status (Mithal A et al. 2009).
Here’s the recent IOF press release, with our comments interspersed as needed for clarity (IOF 2009):
International Osteoporosis Foundation—Press release dated June 30, 2009
A new report issued by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) and published in the scientific journal Osteoporosis International, shows that populations across the globe are suffering from the impact of low levels of vitamin D, with highest rates in South Asia and the Middle East. The problem is widespread and on the increase, with potentially severe repercussions for overall health and fracture rates.
Compiled by IOF’s expert working group on nutrition, the report reviews the scope and causes of low vitamin D levels in six regions: Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, North America and Oceania. Regional reports are available on the IOF website
Vitamin D is mainly produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight, and, to a lesser extent, is derived from nutritional sources. It plays an important role, through its influence on calcium levels, in the maintenance of organ systems, and is needed for normal bone mineralization and growth.
Suboptimal levels of vitamin D may lead to increased risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture and, in severe cases, to the development of rickets, a softening of bones in children that can lead to skeletal fractures and deformity.
Although there is ongoing debate as to what constitutes the optimal level of vitamin D, the report shows that regardless of whether it is defined at 50nmol/L or 75nmol/L, vitamin D status is seriously inadequate in large proportions of the population across the globe.
The main risk factors for low vitamin D levels include older age, female sex, lower latitudes [i.e., greater distance from the equator], winter season, darker skin pigmentation, less sunlight exposure, dietary habits, and the absence of vitamin D fortification in common foods.
Further [risk] factors include the increase in urbanization, where people tend to live and work indoors, as well as cultural practices that tend towards sun avoidance and the wearing of traditional clothing that covers the skin. The severity of the problem in the Middle East and South Asia arises from the combination of several of these risk factors.
These findings suggest that prevention strategies must be initiated at the national level—especially given the increasing ageing of populations in many regions of the world. National plans of action should encourage safe, limited exposure to sunlight and improved dietary intake of vitamin D, whilst considering fortification of foods as well.
We can only hope that public health agencies will run public service ads urging people to consume more vitamin D, and get doctors to address the shortage during people's annual physical exams!
- International Osteoporosis Foundation. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and on the increase. June 30, 2009. Accessed at http://www.iofbonehealth.org/newsroom/media-releases/detail.html?mediaReleaseID=84
- Mithal A, Wahl DA, Bonjour J-P, et al. on behalf of the IOF Committee of Scientific Advisors (CSA) Nutrition Working Group. Global vitamin D status and determinants of hypovitaminosis D (2009) Osteoporosis International, in press.