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Young athletes in northeast Ohio at risk for vitamin D deficiency

Photo: Rama V / Flickr

Photo: Rama V / Flickr

If you’re a young athlete who lives in northeast Ohio, you’re at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps us maintain calcium levels in the body. Appropriate amounts of calcium lead to strong bones and fewer injuries.

Yesterday I spoke with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about this topic.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

0:00

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni, our good friend, from the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital on board with us this morning.

Joe, what do you have for us today?

DR. CONGENI: Hey Ray. You know one of the real hot topics right now in sports and athletes and sports medicine from a nutritional standpoint is the role of vitamin D and calcium. There’s a lot of discussion about it.

We were down in New Orleans last week talking about some of the hot topics. There have been a couple of articles that have come out.

Part of why it’s become such a hot topic is (because) vitamin D maintains calcium at normal levels in the body. Recent studies have shown that upwards of a billion people are deficient in vitamin D right now. That’s why there’s so much talk, even in the general population.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

But, it’s really important in athletes for 3 reasons. (One is) the important role of vitamin D in bone health. I think everybody knows how important vitamin D and calcium are in keeping your bones strong.

It’s also important in immune function – your body’s ability to fight off infection. (It’s also) a real important part of athletic performance. Obviously that’s most important to a lot of people who come through our office.

People know that vitamin D is produced in the skin and then it’s converted to its usable form by sunlight. One of the reasons for this increase in the number of people who are deficient is the use of sunblock.

I know you’ve talked to our dermatologists in town about the (importance) of using sunscreen whenever you’re out in the sun (in order to) block its effects, protect against skin cancer and things like that.

All of the sunblocks are part of the reason a lot people aren’t getting that conversion. Also, at (certain) times of the year there are some athletes who are in sun-challenged regions of the country.

Do you think in northeast Ohio in the last few months we’d be considered sun-challenged?

HORNER: (laughing) Yes.

DR. CONGENI: So these athletes, there are so many of them that are low.

One thing I do want to point out is all the studies show that it helps to be in the normal range, but taking extra vitamin D to be in the high range does not improve sports performance any more.

So, in summary, some of the things we’re looking for — look for the at-risk athletes and those who have lots of injuries. If they’re having stress fractures we should be asking the questions. If they’re having multiple muscle injuries we should be asking questions about vitamin D and calcium.

If they’re having a lot of infections we might want to ask the question or if they’re in that sun-challenged region of the country in the winter and spring.

The real controversy then – is like in the old days – do we just treat them with 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IUs of vitamin D? Or, do we check levels to see how low they are and tailor their treatments?

A lot more sports medicine doctors – in those people who are at risk that I talked about – are checking blood levels and actually treating them with the amount they need to be treated with to get them up into the normal range.

HORNER: Very good. Vitamin D is kind of a double-edged sword – you want the sun exposure, but you don’t want too much. Right Joe?

DR. CONGENI: Right exactly.

(Sunlight) is so important to convert (vitamin D) over to the usable form that we need. Luckily as we move into April and May we’re getting a lot more sunlight now in Ohio.

HORNER: Alright Joe. Always appreciate the time my friend. We’ll catch up with you next week.

DR. CONGENI: OK. Have a great week Ray. Thanks.

HORNER: You too. Dr. Joe Congeni from the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital on board with us.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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