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D is for Dancers – the vitamin, that is!


*Graphic: precisionnutrition.com

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

When thinking about dancers and the nutrition/injury prevention link, it is interesting consider some of the information available on Vitamin D deficiency and its effects on athletic performance.  For dancers, whose training usually takes place indoors and out of the sun, a deficiency in this vitamin could cause an increase in soft tissue injuries during the winter months. {1} Common soft tissue injuries in dancers are strains, sprains and tendonitis.

*The sun is a primary source for Vitamin D:  Vitamin D is produced endogenously (growing from within an organism, tissue or cell) when UV-B rays from sunlight hit unexposed skin. As soon as the sunlight reaches the skin, it triggers vitamin D synthesis.

Research finds:

Professional ballerinas have a high incidence of vitamin D deficiency, improving slightly during summer months. Dancers also are more likely to get injured during the winter, according to research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.{1}

Roger Wolman, MD, of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, UK, and colleagues recruited 18 ballet dancers from a single international touring dance company. The participants were professional Caucasian dancers who dance an average of 6-8 hours per day, 38 hours per week. A lifestyle questionnaire and blood samples were completed in February and August 2010. Company doctors kept track of any injuries that occurred during the study period. Dr. Wolman and colleagues found that during winter season, all dancers were either insufficient, or deficient in vitamin D levels. During summer months the authors noted significant improvement, with 3 dancers with vitamin D levels, while 14 were insufficient and 2 deficient. The authors also found that serum parathyroid hormone (PTH) significantly decreased during this time. Chronically high PTH is associated with vitamin D deficiency and can lead to problems with the thyroid.{1}

RESULTS: There was a significant decrease in incidence of injury between winter and summer months. They conclude: Further studies on the impact of vitamin D3 supplementation on markers of bone metabolism, muscle function and injury profile would help to enhance our understanding of this important area of metabolism in athletes/dance.{1}

Dancer/athletes could most certainly benefit from awareness of vitamin D deficiencies and subsequent effects on injury and performance.

Food Sources of Vitamin D {2}:

  •     The flesh of fatty fish:  salmon, tuna, mackerel
  •     Fish liver oils
  •     Beef liver, cheese, egg yolks (found in smaller amounts)
  •     The U.S. milk supply is fortified with vitamin D @ 100/IU per cup
  •     Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals contain added vitamin D
  •     Some brands of orange juice, yogurt and margarine

This article is by no means complete in its listing of effects of vitamin D deficiency.  The immediate aim, however, is to help dancers become aware of the possible effects associated with both indoor sport activities and inadequate nutrient intakes with a focus on vitamin D deficiency.

Additional information on effects of vitamin D deficiency can be found here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/vitamin-d-deficiency/expert-answers/FAQ-20058397

Until next time, dance healthy and strong, friends!

Janine Bryant
Co-Director of Dance
Faculty of Biokinetics, Education
and the Campolo College for Graduate and Professional Studies
Eastern University, St. David’s Pa.


Wolman R, Wyon MA, Koutedakis Y, Nevill AM, Eastell R, Allen N. Vitamin D status in professional ballet dancers: Winter vs. summer. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2013.
National Institute of Health:  nih.gov

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