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Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Judith James, M.D., Ph.D.

The sunny days of summer bring on a slew of outdoor activities like cookouts, ballgames and time by the pool.
But sunshine and the vitamin D it delivers also play a key role in your health, said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Judith James, M.D., Ph.D.
Sunshine is known to improve mood and help people sleep better at night. Exposure to sunlight also strengthens bones, bolsters the immune system and may lower the risk of conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer’s.
“It’s called the sunshine vitamin for good reason, because sunlight produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays,” said James, who serves as OMRF’s Vice President of Clinical Affairs and holds the Lou C. Kerr Endowed Chair in Biomedical Research.
Vitamin D is essential to good health, but in this age of sun avoidance and indoor jobs, James said, more and more Americans find themselves lacking this vital nutrient.
And, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., unlike many other vitamins, it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone.
“Other vitamins and minerals are usually consumed in appropriate levels by eating a sensible, balanced diet,” said Prescott. “But this isn’t the case with vitamin D.”
As a result, it’s added to foods like milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals. Vitamin D supplements are also a safe, affordable option, said James.
James said vitamin D protects you from a long list of possible health problems, especially in regard to bone health. “A deficiency can predispose anyone, especially girls, to osteoporosis and other related bone health problems,” she said. Making sure young girls get enough vitamin D is crucial for their ability to build maximum bone density, as everyone loses bone mass with age, especially women. If people lose too much bone mass, they are at higher risk of fractures, which limit mobility and are a major cause of mortality and loss of independence in the elderly.
New research shows low vitamin D levels can also raise the risk for developing autoimmune diseases like lupus. “In people who already have an autoimmune disease, if their vitamin D is low, data suggests their disease will be harder to control or they’ll experience more disease activity,” said James. Making sure you get enough vitamin D is important. Just remember to be safe in the sun.
“Sunshine is important, but you can get too much of a good thing,” said James. “Wear adequate sunscreen to decrease your chances of skin cancer, and most importantly, don’t let yourself–or your children–get sunburned. Moderation is key.”

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June is Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month. CMV is a common virus which, in healthy people, can cause mild illness or no symptoms at all. While most are unaware they’ve been infected, the virus increases the risk of certain birth defects for unborn babies when a woman is exposed during pregnancy.
Since most women are unaware of CMV, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is promoting awareness of this public health concern. About one in every 200 babies is born with a congenital CMV infection, but only one in 10 babies with CMV infection at birth will have noticeable signs of infection including small head size, jaundice, or an enlarged liver or spleen. Approximately one in five babies with congenital CMV infection will have long-term health problems such as hearing or vision loss, intellectual disability, developmental delay, small head size, seizures, or lack of coordination. Many babies born with congenital CMV infection won’t have symptoms at birth but are still at risk of developing hearing loss later in life, even if they pass a newborn hearing screening.
Cara Gluck is the OSDH regional director for Beckham, Greer, Harmon, Jackson and Tillman counties; and the mother of a child diagnosed with CMV. She said awareness is key to prevention, and that a woman should be informed of risks to her unborn child to include information on CMV.
“My provider knew I was considered in a higher risk category because I had a young child in a daycare setting and because she was potty-training while I was pregnant, but never discussed this risk with me,” said Gluck. “Had I only known, my husband and I could have made some behavioral changes relating to care for our, then 2-year-old, daughter. He could have been the one to care for her when she was sick, instead of me.”
Since CMV is common in young children, women around young children are at a higher risk for exposure to CMV. The virus can be passed from children to pregnant women through urine during diaper changes, sharing of eating utensils, or exchanging saliva when kissing.
The OSDH offers the following tips to prevent the spread of the virus:
* Kiss children on the cheek and forehead, not the mouth. Share love, not germs.
* Wash hands after contact with bodily fluids, especially after changing diapers.
* Avoid sharing utensils, straws or cups with young children.
For more information, visit CMV.health.ok.gov, the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/cmv/ or the National CMV Foundation website at www.nationalcmv.org.