Q: Why is it important to get enough vitamin D? Should I be screened for vitamin D deficiency?

A: Vitamin D, which you get through your skin, what you eat and drink or from supplements, helps your body absorb calcium.

Calcium, of course, builds strong bones.

Vitamin D also plays an important role in keeping your nerves, muscles and immune system working properly.

If you do not get enough vitamin D, you could develop osteoporosis or rickets, a disease that causes weak bones in children. Your body produces vitamin D naturally after you have been exposed to sunlight, but too much sun has its own risks, including skin cancer and skin aging.

It’s best to eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D to get your daily requirement. Choose from egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver. Some milks and cereals have added vitamin D.

For most people, screening for vitamin D deficiency is not necessary, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Currently, the task force says there are no clear guidelines for determining normal or deficient levels of vitamin D. For those at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, screening can help identify potential problems.

Senior citizens, people with darker skin and breastfed babies are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.

You also might need extra vitamin D if you have certain health conditions, such as liver disease or cystic fibrosis, or if you are obese or had gastric bypass surgery.

Screening for vitamin D deficiency can be done through a blood test. Treatment includes increasing your dietary intake of vitamin D, supplements and sun exposure.

Most providers do not recommend more time in the sun because of the skin cancer risk.

Ask your healthcare provider if you might need additional vitamin D.

Q: Should I take a multivitamin while I am losing weight?

A: Vitamins and supplements should never be taken as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. However, there are certain situations that might call for supplementing your diet with vitamins or minerals.

Very restrictive diets that limit or eliminate certain food categories, such as carbohydrates, are never a good idea, unless prescribed by your doctor. They could lead to deficiencies that can be hard to correct.

Instead, eat a variety of foods that includes fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy fat.

You should talk to your provider about what vitamins or supplements you might need.

Remember that some over-the-counter supplements can interact with prescription drugs. It’s important to tell your doctor everything you are taking.

Heather Barnard, FNP-BC, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who sees adult patients at Memorial Health University Physicians in Okatie.