While you’re catching some rays this summer, think about vitamin D. Sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic in the United States, but many Americans, including physicians, are not aware that they may be lacking this important nutrient.
Despite its name, vitamin D is not a regular vitamin. It's actually a steroid hormone that you get primarily from either sun exposure or supplementation, and its ability to influence genetic expression that produces many of its wide-ranging health benefits.
Researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half.
Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.
Learn about everything vitamin D has to offer.
Uses and Benefits
Vitamin D has several important functions. Perhaps the most vital are regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting a sufficient amount of the vitamin is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.
If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, you’re at risk of developing bone abnormalities such as osteomalacia (soft bones) or osteoporosis (fragile bones).
D Fights Disease
In addition to its primary benefits, research suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in:Reducing your risk of multiple sclerosis, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Decreasing your chance of developing heart disease, according to 2008 findings published in Circulation Helping to reduce your likelihood of developing the flu, according to 2010 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
How Do You Get It?
I firmly believe that appropriate sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels. In fact, I personally have not taken a vitamin D supplement for three or four years, yet my levels are in the 70 ng/ml range. Your body produces vitamin D naturally through direct exposure to sunlight. A little can go a long way: just 10 minutes a day of mid-day sun exposure is plenty, especially if you’re fair-skinned.
If you can't get enough sunshine, then a safe tanning bed would be your next best option. What makes for a safe tanning bed? Most tanning equipment use magnetic ballasts to generate light.
These magnetic ballasts are well known sources of EMF fields that can contribute to cancer. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts.
Beware of “D-ficiency”
Before the year 2000, very few doctors ever considered the possibility that you might be vitamin D deficient. But as the technology to measure vitamin D became inexpensive and widely available, more and more studies were done, and it became increasingly clear that vitamin D deficiency was absolutely rampant. Many lifestyle and environmental factors can affect your ability to get sufficient amounts of this vitamin through the sun alone. These factors include:pollution use of sunscreen spending more time indoors working longer hours in offices living in big cities where buildings block sunlight
These factors contribute to vitamin D deficiency in an increasing number of people. That’s why it’s important to get some of your vitamin D from sources besides sunlight.
Food Sources of D
Although few foods contain vitamin D naturally, some foods are fortified with it, which means that the vitamin is added to the food. Foods that contain vitamin D include:salmon sardines egg yolk shrimp milk (fortified) cereal (fortified) yogurt (fortified) orange juice (fortified)
It can be hard to get enough vitamin D each day through sun exposure and food alone, so taking vitamin D supplements can help.
How Much Do You Need?
There has been some controversy over the amount of vitamin D needed for healthy functioning. Recent research indicates that we need more vitamin D than was once thought.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) reports new intake recommendations (based on international units—IUs—per day):children and teens: 600 IU adults up to age 70: 600 IU adults over age 70: 800 IU pregnant or breastfeeding women: 600 IU
Meet Your Needs for D
Some sources suggest that considerably higher daily amounts of vitamin D—as high as 2000 IU per day—are needed. The NIH emphasizes that people over age 50 generally need higher amounts of vitamin D than younger people do.
Although the exact amount may be in question, the importance of vitamin D is not. Talk to your doctor for guidance on how to ensure you get the right amount for your needs.