TUESDAY, July 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” boosts the immune system and helps prevent cancer, among other health benefits, but significant numbers of black and Hispanic teens have low levels of this nutrient, according to a new study.
“This article draws attention to the need to educate clinicians about the social determinants of health and culturally sensitive dietary practices to improve vitamin D levels and prevent long-term complications,” said the lead author. Shainy Varghese, associate professor of nursing at the University. of Houston.
His team reviewed medical records from a suburban southeast Texas clinic for 119 minority youth, ages 12 to 18. About 61% of these otherwise healthy teens had low levels of vitamin D, the study found. And their vitamin levels dropped as they got older.
“Black and Hispanic populations have a markedly high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and higher incidence and worse outcomes for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease, all of which have been linked to levels of vitamin D,” Varghese said in a university press release.
In addition to well-known benefits such as improving a person’s mood and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, research has also found that among patients with COVID-19, those with low levels vitamin D had more severe respiratory symptoms than those with normal levels.
The body naturally produces vitamin D in response to sunlight. But absorption is more difficult for people with darker skin. Melanin, the substance responsible for skin pigmentation, absorbs and blocks UV light from reaching the cells that produce vitamin D.
The nutrient can also be found in foods like salmon, trout, tuna, eggs, and fortified dairy products. Choosing sugary drinks instead of milk can lower vitamin D levels.
Varghese said the social determinants of health must be addressed to improve vitamin D levels. Food insecurity and lack of access to health care and health education can act as barriers to a healthy diet. healthy and impact communities of color, she said.
“Nurses are often the first health care provider a teenager may encounter, such as school nurses,” said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the UH College of Nursing. “This study may help nurses and health care providers assess the need adolescents may have for vitamin D supplements.”
Varghese recommended standardizing screening for eating habits and identifying nutritional deficiencies during child checkups.
“We understand vitamin D levels are low across the board — 7 out of 10 American children have low levels, increasing their risk for various acute and chronic diseases,” she said. “But the relationship between ethnic diversity and vitamin D levels is understudied and limited in adolescents.”
She said it was imperative that primary care providers understand the risk factors for low vitamin D levels among different ethnic groups.
The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.
The US National Institutes of Health has more on vitamin D.
SOURCE: University of Houston, press release June 28, 2022
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