Many LA Latinos and African Americans are deficient in Vitamin D


According to Lily Li, MD, PhD, many Los Angeles Latinos and African Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. Furthermore, many individuals of all ethnicities throughout the nation are deficient in the essential vitamin. Dr. Li is in LA to attend the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, which opened today, July 16, to the general public at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Dr. Li took time out from her meeting attendance this afternoon to share some thoughts with me on Vitamin D deficiency.

According to the Endocrine Society and the Institute of Medicine, certain groups of people are at increased risk of Vitamin D deficiency, including dark-skinned people such as Hispanics and African-Americans. Dr. Li explained that the increased melanin, which increases the darkness of the skin, also reduces ultraviolet radiation to the skin. The skin can manufacture Vitamin D if one spends time outdoors, particularly in Sunbelt locations such as Los Angeles. However, if one avoids being outdoors, slathers on sunscreen, or wears cover-up garments, the Vitamin D factory in the skin ceases productivity. A gender bias exists: more women suffer from Vitamin D deficiency than men. For example, many Hispanic men have jobs as gardeners or construction workers; thus, they spend a lot of time outdoors. Asian women deem lighter skin to be more attractive; thus, they cover exposed skin with hats, masks, and long gloves.

Dr. Li notes that to specific symptoms are lacking for Vitamin D deficiency unless the level is drastically low. Therefore, she recommends that anyone at risk for a deficiency of the vitamin should have a Vitamin D level drawn at his or her physician’s office. If it is low, the individual should start on Vitamin D supplements and have a repeat analysis in three months to reassess the situation. She also cautions that excess Vitamin D is toxic; thus, it is harmful to the body.

Dr. Lily Li offers the following information regarding Vitamin D:

  • Anyone could be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. However, with the Hispanic population in the LA area reaching approximately 4.7 million, it is important to educate and ensure that Hispanics are aware of their increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • This past April the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put out the Second National Report regarding biochemical indicators of diet and nutrition. The report found that the vitamin D deficiency rate for Mexican-Americans was 12% and for non-Hispanic whites it was 3%.
  • Common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include general muscle weakness, aches and pains. Children may experience bone malformation (rickets).
  • Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is common throughout the world and results in abnormalities of calcium, phosphorus and bone metabolism that can lead to muscle weakness, osteomalacia, osteopenia and osteoporosis. In young children, vitamin D deficiency can result in skeletal deformities known as rickets.

Different amount of vitamin D are required for people of different ages. The Endocrine Society’s “Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline” recommendations include: (1) Infants and children ages 0-1 year require at least 400 IU/day (IU=25 ng) of vitamin D and children 1 year and older require at least 600 IU/day to maximize bone health; (2) Adults aged 19-50 years require at least 600 IU/day of vitamin D to maximize bone health and muscle function and at least 1,500-2,000 IU/day of 25(OH) vitamin D may be needed to maintain proper blood levels; and (3) Adults aged 50-70 years and adults older than 70 years require at least 600 IU/day and 800 IU/day respectively of vitamin D.

If you think you may be deficient, it is important to go get tested. Testing is the only way to determine if an individual is trending toward or suffering from vitamin D deficiency. It is difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose vitamin D deficiency without a test because its most common symptoms are also the symptoms of many other illnesses.

The primary way to obtained vitamin D is through sun exposure or dietary supplements. However, despite the fact that LA is sunny area year-round, its residents still may not be getting enough daily exposure to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D. This may be due to the increased awareness of sun safety.

While it is important to protect your skin from the sun in excess, as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure each day to a wide surface area of the body can help in maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D.

Combine this with basic Vitamin D supplements and/or natural food sources high in Vitamin D content, and most individuals should be safe in maintain optimal Vitamin D levels. However, it is always important to speak to your healthcare professional to get a personalized recommendation on how to maintain optimal levels of Vitamin D.

About Dr. Li:
Dr. Li is the manager of scientific affairs at Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics, Inc., part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role Lily leads multiple cross-functional and external project teams to provide strategic and scientific evidence-based support for the company’s products and product launch. She has more than ten years of pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostics experience, working on the development of a broad range of products. Her most recent focus is the support of the development and the launch of Ortho Clinical Diagnostics’ Vitamin D immunoassay. Dr. Li obtained her M.D. from Peking University, Beijing, China. She holds a PhD in Immunology from the University of Alberta, Canada as well as a MBA from Fox Business School at Temple University. She is the author of nearly 40 peer-reviewed articles and more than 30 presentations. In addition, she is an inventor on more than 15 patent applications and is an adjunct Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Drexel University.


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