The Essential Vitamin D

Are you getting enough daily vitamin D? If not, you could be putting your health at risk.

Food & Nutrition November 10, 2014

Why this vitamin is vital to your health

It's not surprising that Vitamin D has taken center stage in health news, as it has become clear that many people don't get enough of it.

That's a problem because vitamin D is essential for bone health, helping the body absorb and use calcium in bones and teeth. It also helps build your immune system and regulate cell growth.

The risks of vitamin D deficiency

According to Kathryn Keim, PhD, a registered dietitian at Rush, that's just the beginning. "Vitamin D is involved in a lot more body processes than was originally thought," she says.

For example, most people know that vitamin D deficiency can cause weakened bones. But research now suggests that low levels of this vitamin also may be linked to diabetes and heart disease.

In fact, in one study, people with low levels of vitamin D and high blood pressure had nearly twice the rate of heart attack as those with adequate levels, although the reason was not clear.

Vitamin D also may be important to thinking and memory. And although more research needs to be done, some studies show that vitamin D may protect against multiple sclerosis.

Eating a vitamin D-rich diet

While it's always best to get your vitamins from food, getting enough vitamin D through diet alone can be challenging, since few foods contain it naturally. 

These are some good food sources:

  • Egg yolks
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Fatty fish, especially wild-caught salmon and mackrel
  • Canned tuna in water
  • Sardines
  • Beef or calf liver
  • Vitamin D-fortified products, including certain cereals, bread, orange juice, yogurt and soy milk

Vitamin D is involved in a lot more body processes than was originally thought.

Sunshine + skin = vitamin D

The sun can also help you get your recommended daily allowance. That's because sunlight converts vitamin D to its activated form in the skin.

During the short days of winter, however, it's hard to get enough sun — especially in northern-latitude locations such as Chicago. And some people, including older adults and those with darker skin tones, don't make as much vitamin D from sunlight as fair-skinned people.

Supplement your vitamin D intake

According to Keim, if you're not getting your daily dose of vitamin D from foods and/or sunlight, the solution is supplements.

These are the U.S. recommened daily allowance (USRDA) guidelines, based on international units (IU):

  • Infants and children - at least 200 IU per day (Ask your pediatrician about how to give vitamin D to your baby)
  • Adults up to age 70 - at least 600 IU per day*
  • Adults age 71 and older - at least 800 IU per day*

*The recommended dose of vitamin D has actually been rising as research continues to reveal that the USRDA is inadequate. Many doctors now agree that most adults need at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily, if not more. Toxicity from vitamin D is extremely rare. Ask your doctor to include vitamin D testing in your routine blood test to make sure you're getting enough (source: Vitamin D Council).

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