Kidney Diet Tips

Vitamin D and Kidney Disease

istock_vitaminlabelsmall1I’ve been running across lots of information on vitamin D lately. It turns out that many people are deficient in vitamin D. Doctors are starting to check vitamin D levels and prescribe vitamin D3 supplements. Have you had your level checked yet? If you are indoors most of the time or use sunscreen when you go outside, or live in the north you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Low levels have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease. You have a 26 percent greater risk of dying if you are deficient in vitamin D.
There are several sources of vitamin D.

  • Plant sources are in the form of vitamin D2. There are few plants that are significant sources of vitamin D.
  • Animal sources are in the form of vitamin D3. Some good sources include liver, egg yolk, salmon, sardines, cod, tuna and fish oil. This form is also in our skin and is activated by at least 15 minutes of sunshine each day.
  • Another source is foods that are fortified with vitamin D. For example, milk, some brands of butter and cheese, and some breakfast cereal contain added vitamin D.

Once you eat a food containing vitamin D or take a supplement, it goes to the liver and then to the kidneys to be activated. The active form of vitamin D helps keep your bones healthy by balancing calcium and phosphorus. When your kidneys don’t work, vitamin D can’t go through this activation step so you become deficient even if you are taking a supplement or eating foods with vitamin D.
Most kidney patients on dialysis  take a prescription form of activated vitamin D to prevent a type of bone disease called renal osteodystrophy. Dietitians routinely monitor and recommend dose adjustments to help manage vitamin D therapy.
The newer research on vitamin D and kidney disease suggests kidney patients, even those on dialysis receiving activated vitamin D, may benefit from supplemental vitamin D3 when blood levels are low. If you have chronic kidney disease in early stages or on dialysis, talk to your doctor about checking your vitamin D level to see if you need a supplement.

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Sara Colman, RD, CDE

Sara is a renal dietitian with over 20 years experience working with people with diabetes and kidney disease. She is co-author of the popular kidney cookbook "Cooking for David: A Culinary Dialysis Cookbook". Sara is currently the Manager of Kidney Care Nutrition for DaVita. She analyzes recipes and creates content, resources and tools for the kidney community. In her spare time Sara loves to spend time with her young grandson, including fun times together in her kitchen.