Don’t Overlook Vitamin D
What if I told you vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin? It’s actually a biochemical dynamo which ultimately tells more than 1,000 of your body’s genes to get busy and do their jobs.
For example, you might know that vitamin D is essential for helping the body absorb the calcium and phosphate it needs to build strong bones. In fact, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of fractures in older adults.
But this substance’s healthy contributions extend far beyond your bones. Studies have found that vitamin D has an impact on overall health and wellness in several ways, including:
- Muscle strength – Decreases the percent of muscle fat and increases bone strength, which contributes to improved muscle strength.
- Cancer – Regulates processes involved in the immune response to cancer cells. Low vitamin D has been linked to higher risk for several cancers.
- Immune system – Plays a role in fighting colds and flus. Several immune system compounds need vitamin D to turn on their germ- and infection-fighting capabilities.
- Heart disease – Helps reduce heart disease because the heart muscle and circulatory system rely on vitamin D receptors for optimal function. Being deficient in vitamin D is considered an independent predictor of heart attacks and strokes.
So now that you know it’s important, you should also know that many people aren’t getting enough vitamin D. The latest data has found that 15 percent of American kids age 1 to 11 had low blood levels of vitamin D, and a 2011 study found 41.6% of U.S. adults were deficient.
How much D do you need? The recommended daily amount was raised in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
|Old recommendation||New recommendation|
|Up to age 50||200 IU||600 IU|
|Age 51 to 70||400 IU||600 IU|
|Adults > age 70||600 IU||800 IU|
Many get their vitamin D naturally from the sun. In fact, it’s been called the “sunshine vitamin” because a process triggered by sunlight causes vitamin D to be manufactured in the body. Vitamin D is a prohormone that is synthesized in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Factors that inhibit this synthesization process include darker skin tone, being overweight or older and covering up in the sun or use of sunscreen.
Thankfully, vitamin D is also absorbed from food sources. That’s why most get their vitamin D from fortified milk and cereals. Other food sources include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, herring/sardines, cod liver oil, canned tuna, oysters)
- Fortified yogurts and orange juice
- Egg yolks
- Liver and organ meats
It can be hard to know if you’re getting enough vitamin D. Signs of deficiency include weakness, broken bones, stress fractures and aches and pains. If you’re concerned, talk with your health care provider.
Never start supplements without seeking professional advice, because it’s also possible to consume too much vitamin D – and too much can cause bone loss, kidney failure and side effects like nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.