Monday, August 6, 2012

Should health insurance plans cover vitamin D supplements?

Medical personnel have known the necessity of vitamin D for a healthy body since the mid 1800's. Vitamin D is both produced by the body and absorbed through food. However, absorption through food is less than 12% of what the body needs every day.
For people of color, people who have darker skin, higher levels of melanin than northern European descendents, vitamin D deficiencies can pose increased risks. While the US is a multi cultural society, enriched by our diversity, our climate, and the growing internet culture is not the best-suited life style for many of our population. Many people today spend too much time indoors and eat nutrient deprived diets.
"Because the melanin in skin filters sunlight, children with increased skin pigmentation require more sunlight exposure to produce vitamin D." (CDC Press Release http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r010330.htm)
When vitamin D is insufficient in the body, we can absorb only 10 to 15% of the mineral calcium we intake from our food. Malabsorption of calcium leads to bone abnormalities. This is called Rickets in children. In adults, it is called osteomalacia, a painful degradation of adult bones. New research also links vitamin D deficiencies to certain cancers like aggressive breast cancer.
Recent studies have shown that African American women have an increased risk of breast cancer, and specifically experience more aggressive breast cancers in correlation to their vitamin D levels. A study at the University of South Carolina indicated that of the African American Individuals in the study over 50 % showed vitamin D deficiencies.
Diagnosis of a vitamin D deficiency is simple and treatment is even easier. A blood test can determine if your vitamin D levels are within normal range. The prescription is to increase consumption of D-enriched foods like milk and fortified breakfast cereals, and spend at least an hour a day in the sun with your skin exposed.
If you live in an area where sun light is low, or you are unable to be active out in the sunlight do to cold weather or work schedule your physician will recommend using vitamin D supplements to increase your levels. If your physician recommends you use a supplement, check your health insurance plan to see if your health savings account will cover the cost. Whether you have group health insurance or an individual health insurance your out of pocket expenses for over the counter supplements that are prescribed should be covered.
For children with higher levels of melanin in their skin it is important to get as much time in the sun as possible. CDC report on rickets in the US. The CDC report explains that there is an increase of cases of rickets, a malformation of strong bone in infants to children of 5 years old. The increased incidence if rickets is attributed to skin pigmentation and breast-feeding. Mothers who are vitamin d deficient cannot breast feed alone and expect the infants to get enough vitamin D from the breast milk.

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