Lately, the public has been receiving information about vitamin D and its connection to health. Researchers and policymakers agree that the Recommended daily allowance for vitamin D needs to be reassessed, as one half of the population is thought to be vitamin D deficient. This includes older adults, people at northern and southern latitudes, dark skinned individuals, children, pregnant women and exclusively breastfed babies. Also at risk are individuals with fat malabsorption disease such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.
Because this vitamin promotes calcium absorption and bone mineralization it is very important that we get enough. If we don’t, our bones will become soft and weak over time, setting the stage for osteoporosis later in life. While this may not seem like something that you need to be concerned about, I urge you to think again.
Physical activity, calcium and vitamin D intake are now known to be major contributors to bone health for individuals of all ages. Even though bone disease often strikes late in life, the importance of beginning prevention at a very young age and continuing it throughout life is now well understood.
One of the big problems in regard to adequate intake is that vitamin D is not prevalent in foods. Good sources of D include fortified milk, cereal, breads and margarine, egg yolks and fatty fish sources such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring.
According to studies from the American Dietetic Association, milk consumption in America is low. This is due in part to sugared beverages displacing milk’s place in the diet.
Vitamin D is produced naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight. This presents a problem in the Upper Peninsula because we are bundled up most of the time. In addition we spend a great amount of time indoors. In order to synthesize Vitamin D through sunlight it is recommended that skin is exposed to the sun for at least 15 to 20 minutes, without block, at least three times per week. This goes against the recommendation for sunscreen but a short time in the sun with maximal skin exposure is necessary. However, be careful to avoid extended exposure to sunlight without sunscreen.
Supplementation of vitamin D3 is advised as the current recommendations are inadequate. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that in addition to food, 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 should taken daily during the winter months. If sun exposure is minimal, continued supplementation in the summer is also a good way to prevent deficiency.
In addition to its role in bone health, researchers are discovering hopeful connections between vitamin D status and chronic disease such as type 1 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression and multiple sclerosis.
The best way to determine if your vitamin D stores are low is to have your level tested. This is done through a simple blood test that can be administered at NMU’s health center or through your family physician’s office.