Vitamin D is the key to having healthy bones, yet many Americans don't get as much as they need.
The consequence? Broken bones, even among the young and healthy, according to two new studies presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
In one study, researchers from South Korea studied 104 postmenopausal women with wrist fractures and found that 44 percent of the women had insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels. Only 13 percent of 107 women soft tissue injuries were found to have low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D deficiency can be devastating among younger women and men also, according to another study presented at the AAOS meeting.
Researchers at the University of Missouri studied the medical records of nearly 900 adults, some as young as 18 years old, who were admitted to a trauma center for orthopedic injuries. Researchers found that 77 percent of them had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D. Nearly 40 percent were vitamin D deficient.
"We are dealing with a significant problem in our population, especially related to those individuals that sustain fractures," said Dr. Joseph Lane, chief of metabolic bone disease service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food, strengthening the bones. The nutrient is found naturally in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and in small amounts in mushrooms, cheese and egg yolks.The other natural source for vitamin D is sunshine, which causes the body to make vitamin D.
Vitamin D is also added to nearly all milk sold in the U.S.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that children and adults up to age 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D each day, and that adults over 70 should get 800 IU per day.
Getting enough of the nutrient naturally is next to impossible, according to some experts. A cup of milk only has 100 IU of vitamin D. Drink 4 a day and you still won't meet the IOMs daily requirements.
Sunlight is also insufficient for most, said Dr. Loren Wissner Green, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine.
"Light-skinned people generally use sunscreens that prevent the skin from manufacturing vitamin D and darker skinned people have natural melanin barriers to UV rays that allow the skin to manufacture vitamin D," Green said.
Experts say taking a vitamin D supplement is a good idea, especially for older women who are at greater risk for bone fractures.
"All postmenopausal women should be taking calcium and a multivitamin containing vitamin D," said Dr. Scott Boden, director of the Emory University Orthopaedic and Spine Center in Atlanta, Ga.
Additionally, older people, those with previous bone fractures, and others who are at an increased risk of fractures, may want to consider having a doctor check their vitamin D levels.