BALTIMORE — African-Americans are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency than anyone else in the U.S. population, according to some medical experts.
Overall, at least 20 to 50 percent of adults have some form of low vitamin D values, a trait more common in winter months because of less sunlight but still more common in African-Americans because they convert less vitamin D from one form to another in the skin, according to the experts.
The elderly, adolescents, obese individuals and those with chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes and kidney and lung disease) are groups who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. For African Americans included in these groups, the risk is higher.
“We acquire much of our vitamin D supply from the sun. Our skin absorbs one form of vitamin D and converts it into a different form that we can use,” said Dr. Shannarose Guma, a primary care physician at Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. “The darker your skin is, the less vitamin D you will absorb because the pigmentation in your skin called melanin protects the skin from harmful UVA rays from the sun. However, melanin also blocks the positive benefits that you could reap from the sun, such as vitamin D.”
Blocking those positive benefits puts African-Americans at risk for such conditions as osteoporosis, bone pain, muscle weakness, deformed bones and fatigue, Saint Agnes officials said in a news release.
According to Psychology Today, vitamin D also plays a role in the pathophysiology of depression and can also be potential treatment for depression.
Dr. Guma, a graduate from the Ross University School of Medicine, says it’s vital that African Americans take a daily vitamin D3 supplement.
“I advise that everyone [to] take a daily vitamin D supplement, whether by itself or within a multi-vitamin,” Guma said. “Although we know that the sun and our skin together make vitamin D for our body, I do not recommend trying to get vitamin D from the sun. It is still very important to wear sunscreen every day, no matter how much pigmentation your skin has. Everyone is at risk of getting skin cancer.”
Dr. Guma completed her Internal Medicine Residency at Saint Agnes Hospital in 2012 and she serves as a member of Ascension, the nation’s largest Catholic and not-for-profit health system. She also has a practice in Columbia, Maryland.
Patients should ask their primary care physician to check their vitamin levels.
Some insurance policies will not cover that cost unless the patient shows signs of vitamin D deficiency, so it’s important to peruse insurance documents, too.
Elderly patients will benefit the most from a vitamin D level check— especially females as they are more prone to osteoporosis, Guma said, noting that normal vitamin D levels along with proper calcium levels, help to remodel and rebuild bones.
It’s also important to note that symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often nonspecific, but some include unexplained fatigue, joint or bone aches, muscle weakness or osteopenia/osteoporosis.
“I recommend that vitamin D-deficient patients take a daily vitamin D supplement. Currently it is recommended that people between the ages of one and 70 years old, take 600 IU of vitamin D3 every day. For those above the age of 70, the recommendation is to take 800 IU of vitamin D3,” Guma said. “This is based on a 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine. However, if you are having symptoms of unexplained fatigue, joint/bone aches, muscle weakness or osteopenia/osteoporosis, ask your primary care physician to have your vitamin D level checked, as you may need to take in even more vitamin D on a daily basis.”