Although vitamin D is just one of many nutrients that our bodies need to function properly, it’s gotten a lot of attention because of sun exposure and fortified milk. But as the winter season approaches and settles in, many people are concerned with getting enough of it. So let’s dig a little deeper into why vitamin D is so important and natural, healthy ways to get enough of it.
The Importance of Vitamin D
The primary function of Vitamin D is to help the body absorb calcium and promote bone health. However, this vitamin has been linked to many other body functions as well.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, low levels of vitamin D put you at a higher risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Studies also show that it helps regulate blood pressure in the kidneys and blood sugar levels in the pancreas. The National Cancer Institute, part of NIH, has acknowledged that low vitamin D levels may make you more susceptible to certain types of cancer, and two phase I trials focusing on prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers are expected to be complete by December 2017.
A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine shares that vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties and may aid in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, falls among the elderly, cognition, and chronic pain. You can learn more about the recent randomized study about vitamin D and multiple sclerosis in this journal publication.
Getting Enough Vitamin D
The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that children up to 12 months get 400 IU of vitamin D, people between the ages of one and 70 get 600 IU of vitamin D, and adults over 71 get 800 IU of vitamin D per day. Very few people have vitamin D levels that are too high, but many of us are deficient in this important vitamin.
The most common demographics of people who have vitamin D deficiencies include the following:
- Elderly adults
- People with dark colored skin
- Infants who are breastfed
- People who are obese
- People with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
- People who live in cold, northern climates
Without enough vitamin D in the diet, bone pain and muscle weakness are likely to occur. One thing that makes vitamin D unique is that your body can produce it when exposed to natural sunlight. However, this is a double-edged sword because the sun’s UV rays can also be damaging and cause burns and even skin cancer without proper protection.
Natural Ways to Get Vitamin D
The best dietary sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, and cod liver oil. If you don’t eat fish regularly as part of your diet, you can supplement with marine protein or shark liver oil capsules.
These are some other good food sources of vitamin D:
- Vitamin D-fortified milk
- Beef liver
- Some cheeses
- Some breakfast cereals
- Vitamin-D fortified yogurt
It’s especially important to incorporate these foods into your diet in the winter. A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to mood disorders and coming down with the “winter blues.” Even just 15 minutes of winter sunshine can boost vitamin D levels too. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, your doctor can order a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test as part of your blood test. As a general rule, people who have 25-OHD levels of less than 15 ng/mL have a deficiency and need to increase their vitamin D intake.