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April 13, 2014

PETERS: Vitamin D levels can be checked

My mother lives with me and I’m involved in her medical care. She’s a tough cookie. But like many 88-year-olds, she has several health problems.

We visit her doctor at least once a month to report what’s working and what isn’t doing the trick. Recently the doctor ordered blood work that showed she was low in vitamin D. So now I’ve added vitamin D tablets to her daily medication regime.

In the summer our bodies produce vitamin D when sunlight strikes our skin. But during the dark winter months, that source of vitamin D dries up. Vitamin D is in fortified milk (and some OJ) but my mama is living proof not everyone gets enough vitamin D from their diet.

Vitamin D is important in its own right in terms of what it does for us. But as a sideline, it helps us absorb calcium. As we age, getting more calcium to where it’s needed in the body can help us avoid osteoporosis. For that reason alone, it’s worth talking to your health care provider about vitamin D levels.

If you don’t like the thought of taking pills, there are foods that are good sources of vitamin D. The Mayo Clinic website recommends eggs, milk, fish and cod liver oil. (The thought of downing spoonfuls of cod liver oil makes taking pills seem like a pretty good deal -- but maybe that’s just me.)

In extreme cases of low vitamin D, rickets can result. Rickets is a softening and a weakening of bones. My poor mother had rickets when she was a kid in the early 1930s. It’s quite possible the milk she drank back in the day wasn’t fortified with vitamin D. But you can experience some degree of vitamin D deficiency without developing rickets.

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