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Growing number of athletes don’t get sufficient vitamin D: Dr. Joe Congeni discusses questions surrounding vitamin D deficiencies

football-playersThere’s been a startling increase in severe vitamin D deficiency in children and athletes, which  can have a devastating impact on bone strength, injury rates and training quality.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni, director of sports medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, discussed this growing problem and whether athletes should be monitored and supplemented with this sunshine vitamin.

[Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on February 13, 2013. Transcript and audio below.]

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Horner: We’d like to get the insight out of sports medicine from our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Joe, a lot of questions: What is right? What is wrong? Where do you get vitamin D?

Dr. Congeni: In the last year or two, vitamin D seems to be the hottest nutritional topic, especially for athletes. It’s called the sunshine vitamin because [sun exposure] is very important to synthesize it to its useful form.

There’s so much talk, particularly in the winters in the northern part of this country, that a lot of people are deficient. There’s such a significant amount of deficiency that people say, “Geez, everybody could stand to be supplemented with it.”

There’s a lot of discussion about it in sports medicine because it’s important for bone health.

But, there’s also a lot of studies going on about its aid in improving muscle, heart and brain function. So, there’s a lot of discussion about this vitamin, particularly in athletes.

One of the big questions, in the last two years, is should we check levels? Should we just say, so many people are deficient in it, so just go ahead and take vitamin D, or should we really know how deficient people are?

I think things have changed a little in sports medicine circles, pediatrics and in medicine overall. We are starting to check levels.

Like a lot of other things, if people are deficient we want to know by how much. We want to know how to supplement them correctly; what their dose should be. I think a lot more people in medicine right now are checking vitamin D blood levels and appropriately supplementing people to get them back up to normal.

The second question is should we only supplement those people with problems — those that we know have stress fractures or bone issues — or is it something that’s good for everybody in the population?

One study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics came out last year and said that over 60% of kids have insufficient amounts of vitamin D and about 10% of kids are, frankly, clinically deficient.

So, the question is how do we dose these kids? Do we check levels on these athletes and should we supplement all of these athletes?

That’s really a very hot topic right now. I’ve switched around to checking vitamin D levels in a lot of my athletes in order to supplement them appropriately.

Horner: What about too much vitamin D? Are there side effects?

Dr. Congeni: That’s a great question. We always worry about the side effects.

There’s a good safety level. Dosing is typically 1,000 to 2,000 international units, but there are studies of people taking 5,000 to 20,000 international units.

When you get up to those high levels, [people can encounter] problems with toxicity of calcium — too much calcium. That’s a major side effect that we know. Some of this causes kidney stones, gallstones and other similar issues with hypercalcemia.

Horner: Alright, Joe, great insight as always, my friend. We’ll catch up with you next week.