African-Americans Need More Vitamin D

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April 11th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Low vitamin D levels have long been tied to malnourishment and resultant health problems such as rickets that involve weak bones. But what is surprising to many is that recent research on vitamin D has found that most people are deficient in vitamin D. In particular, those with dark skin such as African-Americans are at particularly high risk for low levels of vitamin D and a wide range of common health problems including obesity, diabetes, asthma, autism, and depression that research is showing are likely related to insufficient vitamin D.

Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic Tied to Obesity and Diabetes Epidemics

The mainstream media has been reporting lately on Michella Obama’s efforts to improve nutrition for kids. She is focusing on reducing calorie-laden foods such as soft-drinks and fast-food, increasing the consumption of healthier foods such as vegetables, and getting kids to trade in some of their sedentary activities such as watching TV for exercise. Yet she and her associates appear to be paying little attention to the widespread vitamin D deficiency epidemic that is increasingly being tied to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

(from Culture of Corpulence: American innovations in food, transportation, and technology are threatening to supersize us all.)

The epidemic is most alarming among American children: rates have tripled among kids ages 12 to 19 since 1980, with one third of America’s youth now overweight or obese and almost 10 percent of infants and toddlers dangerously heavy. Obese kids, defined by a body-mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex, are at risk for developing conditions in childhood once monopolized by adults: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. And many are stigmatized and suffer from low self-esteem, which can lead to depression. If current trends continue, nearly one in three kids born in 2000—and one in two minorities—will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, according to the American Diabetes Association. The disease is linked to heart attack, stroke, blindness, amputation, and kidney disease.

Increased Vitamin D Tied to Improved Weight Loss

Diabetics tend to have more trouble maintaining healthy weight and losing weight. In a review of statistics for Philadelphia kids diagnosed with diabetes from 1995 to 1999, it was observed the rates of type 1 diabetes (sometimes called child-onset diabetes, other times insulin-dependent diabetes) in African-Americans appear to be elevated versus other racial groups:

(from Type 1 diabetes rates in black children higher than in white children)

The overall age-adjusted incidence rate of type 1 diabetes was 14.8 per 100,000/year, according to the report. Although the type 1 diabetes incidence rate remained fairly stable in the Hispanic (15.5 per 100,000/year) and white populations (12.8 per 100,000/year), it rose steadily in the black population (15.2 per 100,000/year). It increased 64% in black children aged 5 to 9 years (14.9 per 100,000/year) and climbed 37% in children aged 10 to 14 years (26.9 per 100,000/year).

“Now, for the first time in Philadelphia, the incidence in black children has surpassed the incidence in white children,” the researchers wrote.

A small study in 2009 revealed that increases in vitamin D levels were tied to more rapid fat loss in study participants.

(from Higher Vitamin D Levels Improve Weight Loss and Health)

For each 1 ng/mL higher vitamin D in blood serum, the dieter lost about half a pound more weight. Further, the higher vitamin D levels correlated with more abdominal weight loss. Researchers suspect that vitamin D may help the body metabolize fat more effectively. While more studies are needed to fully understand the exact mechanism of the increase fat loss induced by higher vitamin D levels, it’s not premature to be advising that people need to be increasing and/or monitoring their vitamin D intake more carefully to improve their health.

Dark Skin Impairs Vitamin D Production

Dark-skinned populations, such as people with ancestry from Africa and India, who live far from the equator have low vitamin D levels in the absence of using vitamin D supplements. The high levels of melanin pigment in their skins blocks UV light. This likely evolved to protect them from intense equatorial sunlight as melanin can convert about 99.9% of the incoming UV light to harmless heat. It thereby blocks most of the carcinogenic and oxidant-producing effects of UV light. But when people with high levels of melanin live in northern or southern latitudes, they are exposed to less intense sunlight and their protective melanin instead impedes skin production of vitamin D. This leaves them vulnerable to a wide variety of medical conditions aggravated or caused by low vitamin D levels including asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many cancers. Pregnant mothers with low vitamin D are also at risk for higher rate of premature birth and babies with health complications.

A large study in 2002 involving about 3000 American women, half white and half black, found that vitamin D deficiency was far more common in blacks:

(from Vitamin D deficiency in black and white)

The team examined 1546 African American women and 1426 white women aged 15 to 49 years between 1988 and 1994. They found that hypovitaminosis D was 10 times more prevalent in African American (42 per cent) than in white women (4 per cent).

Nesby-O’Dell said that they also discovered that every determinant of vitamin D status contributed in some part to the prevalence of hypovitaminosis D in the African American women, including urban residence, increased skin melanin with low rates of casual sunlight exposure and low consumption of fortified milk and cereal.

Cost Of Resolving Vitamin D Deficiency Is Low

While a 4 percent deficiency rate for whites may not sound bad, keep in mind this research was based upon antiquated notions of sufficient vitamin D that are no longer accepted based upon new research. While newer acceptable ranges are still being debated, it appears that about half of whites and nearly all blacks in the United States do not meet these ranges even if they are adults supplementing with vitamin D products at dosages of up to 2000 IU per day. Optimal levels do not appear to be reached for most adults unless they consume more than 2000 IU per day of vitamin D3. Some researchers are suggesting that the guideline adult daily dose be around 4000 IU to 5000 IU per day.

During my own vitamin shopping, I’ve found that it is readily possible to get a year’s supply of 5000 IU of vitamin D3 for less than $20 via products such as Puritan’s Pride Vitamin D3 5000 IU softgels. This dosage is enough for most adults to attain optimal vitamin D blood levels. Few adults will need more than twice this dosage to attain optimal blood test results.

Anybody taking more than 10,000 IU per day should be getting at least annual vitamin D blood tests and a CBC test to verify that their vitamin D and calcium levels are not becoming excessive. Kids should be taking vitamin D supplements, too, but at lower dosages. Although the exact dosage for optimal results can’t be determined without a blood test, a rough guideline is that kids significantly smaller than adults (possibly under age 16, but this obviously varies a lot from child to child) should probably be taking 2000 IU or less per day.

It’s OK to take your vitamin D every other day or even once or twice per week as it is fat-soluble and will accumulate in the body over time. Simply average out the amount you are taking over time to determine your average daily dosage. For instance, if you feed your 11 year old one 5000 IU vitamin D3 mini-softgel twice per week, that works out to 10,000 IU per week or about 1428 IU per day. While it might be slightly better to take a consistent dose every day, this kind of variation should not be problematic and could save you a lot of money as 5000 IU softgels are often only slightly more expensive than 2000 IU softgels.

Please see our previous article Adjusting Your Vitamin D Intake to Optimal Levels for much more detailed information on how to use vitamin D supplements and tests effectively and inexpensively.

Further Reading

Low Vitamin D Common in African-American Asthma Kids

Black Women/Kids Need More Vitamin D

Higher Vitamin D Levels Improve Weight Loss and Health

70% of US Children Have Low Vitamin D Levels

Adjusting Your Vitamin D Intake to Optimal Levels

Type 1 diabetes rates in black children higher than in white children

3000 – 4000 Units Vitamin D Needed in African-Americans

Higher Vitamin D Supplements Advised for Older Black Women

Vitamin D deficiency in black and white

Culture of Corpulence: American innovations in food, transportation, and technology are threatening to supersize us all.

Michelle on a Mission: How we can empower parents, schools, and the community to battle childhood obesity.

Help Kids Avoid Type 2 Diabetes: Eat Less Sugar, More Fiber


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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