PERSONAL HEALTH & FITNESS
Image source: Harvard Health
Image source: Harvard Health
Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for good health. Although most people associate vitamin D with strong bones, it’s also critical for a variety of other bodily functions; it helps you maintain a strong immune system and muscular function, and is important for a healthy heart, lungs and brain development. A lack of vitamin D can lead to a variety of chronic illnesses, including rickets, osteoporosis, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and even depression. Alternately, some studies suggest healthy levels of vitamin D may help lower the risk of colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks and symptoms of asthma and Alzheimers, although the research is not definitive.
One of the things that makes vitamin D unique is that our skin produces it when exposed to the sun. While it may seem like we should never be lacking this important vitamin, researchers estimate that half to three-quarters of Americans may have less vitamin D than is necessary to maintain good health.
Could I Be Vitamin D Deficient?
Most experts agree that getting 15 minutes of exposure to the sun a few times a week can prevent vitamin D deficiency. However, if you live in the northern part of the United States (above 37 degrees north of the equator), you probably won’t get enough sun exposure to produce enough vitamin D except during the summer months, according to Harvard Women’s Health Watch. The same is true for people living below 37 degrees south of the equator.
Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include:
Age – As you grow older, your skin thins and become less efficient at producing vitamin D.
Skin tone – Melanin is the substance that determines skin color. A person with more melanin (darker skin tone) requires more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with less melanin (lighter skin tone).
Lifestyle – If you spend most of your time indoors, you may not be getting enough vitamin D. The same is true if you regularly wear a sunscreen or cover your skin while outdoors.
Other factors – Stress, smoking, drinking alcohol and poor diet can also contribute to insufficient vitamin D levels.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough vitamin D, ask your physician for the 25(OH)D blood test or order a home test kit online. According to the Vitamin D Council, optimal levels fall between 40 ng/ml on the low side and 80 ng/ml on the high end. These are the typical vitamin D levels found in our African ancestors, who lived an outdoor, hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
If you fall within this range, you are getting enough vitamin D not only to ensure your body is absorbing calcium and producing enough parathyroid hormone, but also to maintain a strong immune system, protect your cardiovascular system and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.
Keep in mind that more is not always better. Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means that it is hard for your body to eliminate. Anything over 100 nl/ml is considered high, and levels greater than 150 ng/ml may damage your health and are considered toxic.
Where Can I Get My Daily Dose of Vitamin D?
According to WebMD, small amounts of vitamin D can be found in herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna. It can also be obtained from other foods, such as milk and cereal, which are vitamin D fortified.
While vitamin D can be found in our diet, the most abundant supply is what your body produces from sun exposure. The problem is that, in many cases, we do not get enough sun exposure to allow adequate vitamin D production via photosynthesis or through our diets, so supplementation is often necessary to maintain optimal levels in the body.
There are several forms of vitamin D. Of those, D3 is more bioavailable (and effective) for humans, and is thus usually the best choice for supplementation. There’s plenty of debate about the recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Low estimates suggest 600 IU for an average adult (800 IU for seniors), while the Vitamin D Council and other organizations recommend 10,000 IU per day.
The best way to ensure you are getting the proper amount of vitamin D is to chat with your doctor. Your physician can test your vitamin D level, and then make a recommendation as to whether, and how much, you should supplement your vitamin D on a daily basis. If you do need a vitamin D supplement, make sure it’s a quality one that can be readily absorbed.