You hear a lot about vitamin D these days. It’s a vital nutrient and yet tricky to get enough of. Not found in many foods, most of the vitamin D you get is from exposure to the sun. But spending the majority of your days indoors and covering your body in sunscreen to avoid sunburns and ultraviolet rays make getting enough vitamin D difficult.
What’s the big deal about vitamin D and how can you know if you’re getting the recommended amount?
Best D Sources
Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel), fish liver oil, beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and some types of mushrooms. Many food manufacturers are adding vitamin D to their products in an effort to ensure people get adequate amounts in their diet. You can find certain milks, breakfast cereals, yogurts, orange juices, and margarines fortified with vitamin D.
The best way to store up vitamin D is by soaking up some sun. Bare your face, hands, arms, and legs to the sun two to three times a week for about half of the time it takes to get a sunburn and your body produces all the vitamin D you need for the week. The length of time you spend in the sun varies with age, time of day, time of year, and the color of your skin (the darker your skin, the lower its ability to soak up vitamin D).
Why is vitamin D so important to health and wellness? One of its greatest assets is that it helps your body absorb the vital nutrient calcium. Without the ability to absorb the goodness of calcium, your bones suffer and can become thin, brittle, and easily breakable. Vitamin D therefore helps protect from osteoporosis, bone pain, and bone loss.
In addition to bone health, vitamin D is needed for new cell growth; a healthy immune system, nerves, muscles, skin, and blood pressure; maintaining a sense of balance; reducing inflammation in the body; and preventing rickets (soft bones and deformities) in children.
A D Deficiency
Are you at risk for a vitamin D deficiency? You could be if you avoid the sun, live in the northern parts of the globe that don’t get direct sun rays in the winter, are vegan, have an allergy to milk, are obese, are over the age of 65 (your body drastically slows its production of vitamin D as you age), have dark skin, have decreased kidney function, or live with a disease of the digestive tract.
Serious health risks are associated with a vitamin D deficiency. Lack of this important nutrient can cause memory problems in the elderly, asthma in children, death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, depression, and cancer.
Most people who are low in vitamin D don’t realize it. Others have symptoms such as bone pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, depression, or fatigue. A simple blood test can measure your vitamin D levels. Between 20 and 50 nanograms per milliliter is considered normal. Less than 12 ng/ml signals a deficiency and requires treatment. If you are vitamin D deficient, your physician may advise a supplement and increased time spent in the sun.