Find out how to get your daily dose of essential "D's".
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Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. But did you know that an estimated one billion people around the world do not have enough of it in their bodies? This includes two-thirds of the American population.
It may surprise you to learn that vitamin D is actually a hormone. This hormone circulates in the blood and supports the whole body, including helping with calcium and phosphorus absorption. It plays an important role in building bones. A deficiency of vitamin D in adults can lead to thin, brittle bones—a condition called osteoporosis.
Vitamin D has been in the news a lot lately. That is because we have learned that its effects extend far beyond bones. Tissues throughout the body respond to it. Vitamin D is a powerful anti-inflammatory, so it is thought to play an important role in immune health. Research has suggested that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.
Although many people with vitamin D deficiency have no symptoms, some may develop muscle aches, bone pain, chronic pain, fatigue syndromes, and even depression. How do you know if your vitamin D levels are healthy? Ask your doctor to order a blood test to check. A level between 20 and 30 nanograms-per-milliliter indicates a vitamin D "insufficiency," while less than 20 indicates a "deficiency."
Need more vitamin D? Here is how you can get it:
Vitamin D is found in certain foods, which will be discussed later, but that is not the only place you can find it. When our skin is exposed to the sun, our bodies produce it by using the suns rays. For this reason, vitamin D is often called the "sunshine vitamin". When sunlight hits our body, the UVB rays from the sun trigger a reaction in the skin that converts cholesterol into an inactive form of vitamin D. This form is transported to the liver and kidneys, where it is converted into an active vitamin D hormone.
If all it takes is some time in the sun, why do most of us not have enough vitamin D?There are a lot reasons. Some people, such as those with darker skin tones, those who are overweight, and those who are older, cannot make enough Vitamin D from the sun.On top of that, we have been repeatedly urged to use sunscreen and cover up in the sun, which blocks harmful UV rays. Many of us do not go out in the sun at all. This is all good advice for preventing skin cancer and premature aging, but leaves us with less vitamin D.
Sun dilemmas aside, there are only a couple of foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna and sardines are good natural choices. However, our biggest dietary sources include foods that are fortified with vitamin D, like milk and breakfast cereals.
Now that we know where to find it, how much vitamin D should we be getting?
Currently, the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get from 200 to 600 I-U or international units of vitamin D a day. Yet, the latest research shows just how important vitamin D is, and that 200 to 600 units may not be enough. Many experts now agree that adults need at least 800 to 2,000 units a day. To put this in perspective, about 5 to 10 minutes in strong rays, with arms and legs exposed, makes about 3,000 units or more than enough units per day.
Because sun exposure can be harmful, for many people, taking a supplement is the best way to get enough vitamin D. If your doctor or nutritionist determines you need a supplement, look for one that contains vitamin D3 instead of vitamin D2. D3 is three to four times as potent as D2. Yet beware, because you can take too much vitamin D and overdo a good thing. Talk to your doctor about how much you should take to get and keep your levels in the normal range.
The bottom line: Be sure to get your daily dose of vitamin D—from the sun, from food or from a supplement. Vitamin D is absolutely essential to your health.