This time of year when we can go weeks on end with little to no sunshine, vitamin D deficiency is a real issue, especially for athletes. We’re finding out players who are experiencing recurrent injuries or who aren’t healing quickly after an injury are in fact vitamin D deficient.
We’re seeing athletes hover around the low 20 to 25 range, instead of the 40 to 45 range, where we’d like them to be. We’re now doing a better job of monitoring vitamin D levels, instead of simply recommending supplements, and we’re seeing improvements.
Last week, I spoke with 1590 WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about this topic. Typically, we’d supplement with 400 to 800 international units of vitamin D. But nowadays, we’re recommending 2,000 units a day, or even 50,000 units once a week in some cases, to get athletes back up to normal levels very quickly.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.
HORNER: Let’s bring in our next guest, Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center, Akron Children’s Hospital. Good morning, Joe.
DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. How you doin’ today?
HORNER: I’m doing well today. … What do you have for us this morning?
DR. CONGENI: Well, I wanted to talk about something that’s a hot topic in sports medicine, a hot topic in all of medicine, really.
[There are] many things that we’re starting to look at related to, um, vitamin D deficiency. … I think we, you know, all know that calcium and vitamin D are important in bone health, and in a lot of our athletes who are either having a lot of recurrent injuries or are not healing well from injury, are healing slowly after injury, [we’re finding out are vitamin D deficient].
Um, a lot of people have been looking into lately, you know, whether many of those athletes are vitamin D deficient. We are seeing a lot of those are vitamin D deficient and by replacing vitamin D, we’re seeing some improvement.
So, it’s become a very important area that we check. You know, for a long time we’d just say, hey, if you had 2 or 3 stress fractures, maybe you oughta take a little calcium and vitamin D.
But nowadays, we’re checking levels and doing a better job … following up with their vitamin D level [to make sure it] is getting back up into their normal [range], and for athletes, the high normal range. And, it’s been very helpful for a lot of athletes.
HORNER: Hmm. You know, we don’t talk too much about that, do we? But, it sounds like we should.
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, and it’s very much worth checking. And so, in preparing for this … I’ve spoken to a couple endocrinologists in the last week and, of course, they see it a lot in their office, and their real plea to athletes and the, uh, docs and trainers that take care of athletes is to get a number. Check a level of vitamin D.
A lot of these people are in the 20, 25 range and that’s not good enough for athletes. We really like to see our athletes up in the 45, 50 range, really. The higher ends of normal, rather than in the deficient range. And, I think we can really help a lot of athletes with this. So, it’s become something that’s talked about a lot.
There are a lot of other, uh, perhaps effects of vitamin D: depression and fatigue and other issues that may have a role, but definitely in the area of bone health. Checking vitamin D and making sure that your athletes are in the high normal range and making sure that they’re doing well with calcium [is important].
Of course in our climate, you know that it’s directly related to the sun and sun exposure also … and at this time of year, so many of our athletes just are not getting enough sun exposure obviously, and a lot of them are on the low end.
If you have somebody with recurrent injuries or somebody who is not healing well, this is something that may help them significantly.
HORNER: Very good stuff. So, get them away from the television and the video games and get them outside.
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, right, and one other thing is that the typical way we’ve been supplementing — this was an eye-opener for me — is, uh, you know, 800 international units or 400 international units of just a capsule that they take once a day.
[However], a lot of endocrinologists are saying, “Oh my gosh, it’ll take you months to get ’em in the normal range at that low of a level. Get ’em up to 2,000 international units a day.” Or, [they are even suggesting] to really get people up within a week or very quickly 50,000 international unit capsules once a week.
So, the endocrinologists are getting aggressive with this, and they’re telling the rest of us in sports medicine that by getting aggressive with this we can help our athletes.
HORNER: Alright, Joe. Good information this morning. Thank you for getting up with us, my friend. We’ll talk to you next week.
DR. CONGENI: Alright, Ray. Have a great week.