Vitamin D—The Sunshine Vitamin: Low Levels and a New Health Concern

Ted Schettler MD, MPH
Science Director of CHE
and the Science and Environmental Health Network

Vitamin D plays an essential role in a number of biologic processes throughout the body. In addition to its long-recognized importance for bone health, vitamin D deficiency is increasingly acknowledged to be associated with a number of other diseases and disorders, including various kinds of cancer. A recently published study adds considerable support to yet another health impact—earlier age of menarche in otherwise healthy girls. If this finding holds up in future studies, the implications are profound.

If sunlight exposure is sufficient, adequate amounts of vitamin D are synthesized in the body. But many people, particularly those living in higher latitudes, are not exposed to enough sunlight to generate adequate stores. And, even in sunny places, skin cancer concerns limit sun exposure. Some foods are fortified with modest amounts of vitamin D in an attempt to address the deficiency. Nonetheless, vitamin D insufficiency remains extremely common in the general population. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine addresses this.

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