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Limited exposure to sunlight contributes to a deficiency in vitamin D.

Posted by Peter at MSN Health on Monday, February 16, 2009 12:22 PM

A study published in the January/February issue of the journal Endocrine Practice showed dangerously low vitamin D levels in Arab-American women living in southeast Detroit. Women who wore the hijab—which covers the hair and neck, and sometimes the face, with a veil—had even more severe vitamin D deficiencies.

Few Americans wear the hijab, but we are all likely to bundle up in the winter before facing the cold—that is, when we are brave enough to venture out instead of enjoying the warmth and comforts of our home.

Even when the weather’s more pleasant, most of us are getting less exposure to the sun than we need because, health-conscious as we are, we regularly slather on sunscreen to protect us from skin cancer.

Such practices make sense but our bodies need ultraviolet light from the sun to produce vitamin D in the skin; by reducing our exposure to the sun, we risk vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency can be serious, causing rickets in children and contributing to osteoporosis in adults. It has also been linked to higher risks of diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D deficiency even increases the risk of an untimely death.

“When people live where the weather is colder and they are more covered with clothing, they depend on their diet for their vitamin D,” says Dr. Hobbs, M.D., a researcher at Henry Ford Hospital and lead author of the Endocrine Practice study. Unfortunately, few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D and the women in the study drank little fortified milk or orange juice.

The study’s authors recommend Arab-American women boost their vitamin D levels with a supplement. But for most of us, the easiest way to increase our vitamin D levels is to go outside more often and soak up a few more rays of sun. Taking a short walk a few times a week, sans sunscreen, usually does the trick.

Stay tuned for more “best health” information.

Connie Clark

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