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Vitamin D Tests: When you need them and when you don’t

Many people don’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies. Low vitamin D increases the risk of broken bones. It may also contribute to other health problems. That’s why health care providers often order a blood test to measure vitamin D.

But many people do not need the test. Here’s why:

A test usually does not improve treatment.

Many people have low levels of vitamin D, but few have seriously low levels. Most of us don’t need a vitamin D test. We just need to make simple changes so we get enough vitamin D. We need to get a little more sun and follow the other advice found below.

Even if you are at risk for other diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, a vitamin D test isn’t usually helpful. The test results are unlikely to change the advice from your health care provider. It is much more important for you to make lifestyle changes first—to stop smoking, aim for a healthy weight and be physically active. And, like most other Canadians, you should try to get enough vitamin D from sun and foods. And talk to your doctor about supplements.

Extra tests lead to extra treatments.

Getting tests that you don’t need often leads to treatments you don’t need, or treatments that can even be harmful. For example, if you take too much vitamin D, it can damage your kidneys and other organs.

When should you have a vitamin D test?

Talk to your health care provider about your risks. Here are some conditions where you might need a Vitamin D test:

If your health care provider suggests getting a vitamin D test, ask about your risks. If your risk is high, you should get the test. If your risk is low, ask if you can avoid the test. Ask if you can boost your vitamin D with sunlight and food, and possibly supplements.

If your health care provider needs to keep track of your Vitamin D, make sure the same test is used each time. Ask your health care provider which tests are best.

How can you get enough vitamin D?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) per day is 400 IU (10 mcg) for children

Get some sun. The sun’s ultraviolet rays create vitamin D in your skin cells. You don’t need a lot of sun. Depending on the amount of skin exposed and sunscreen used, a 10-minute walk in the midday sun can create as much as 15 times the amount of vitamin D that you need every day. Your body stores some of the extra vitamin D to help you in the darker winter months.

Eat foods that are rich in vitamin D.

Eat breakfast. Two eggs, a glass of orange juice (not from concentrate) and a bowl of cereal with milk can add about 300 IU of vitamin D a day.

Talk to your health care provider about supplements. If you don’t get much sun and your diet is low in vitamin D, a supplement may help.

Do not take more than 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day unless your health care provider has advised you to do so. Too much vitamin D can be toxic and can damage your kidneys.