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Nov 26, 2013

Vitamin D Test Misdiagnoses African-Americans

Standard test wrongly labels most African-Americans as vitamin D deficient.

Screenings show that most African-Americans don’t get enough vitamin D—an important nutrient that aids in the absorption of calcium for strong bones. Still, they have stronger bones and lower risk of breaking a bone compared other populations. How? Our current tests are misdiagnosing African-Americans as vitamin D deficient, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The standard vitamin D test is designed to measure the amount of a vitamin called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is usually a good indicator of how much vitamin D we have in our body. However, it may not be an accurate gauge of vitamin D levels in African-Americans.

This study, called the “Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span” cohort enrolled 2,805 Baltimore residents, measuring their bone density and levels of various markers in their blood related to vitamin D levels. After analysis, researchers found that African-Americans had lower levels of markers typically measured in tests, but had just as much vitamin D available for the body to use. In other words, they had perfectly healthy levels of vitamin D but were misdiagnosed according to current tests.

Study authors conclude that doctors should hold off on prescribing vitamin D, especially to African-Americans, until they use other tests to confirm vitamin D deficiency, such as calcium and bone density tests. They also hope for additional research on this topic to further our understanding of the relationship between vitamin D and cardiovascular health. Although associations have been found between vitamin D and high blood pressurediabetes and cancer, whether or not vitamin D causes these outcomes has yet to be determined.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D can be found naturally in a few food sources such as fatty fish, cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also added to some food products like milk and some yogurts, juices and cereals. The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency, however, is to get enough regular exposure to the sun and to take supplements when necessary.
  • Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

  • Those at greatest risk for vitamin D deficiency include breast-fed infants, older adults, people with dark skin, people with fat malabsorption and people who are obese or have undergone gastric bypass surgery.

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