Maybe you need a dose of the 'sunshine vitamin'
After being virtually ignored while vitamins C and E gained fans among supplement users, the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Sure, vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus from the food we eat, and children need it so their bones will grow big and strong. Adults need it for bone health, too, but it turns out that vitamin D gets A’s for other things, too.
"Vitamin D also plays a large role throughout the body in cell growth and in regulating genes that play a vital role in the immune system," said Marium Ilahi, M.D., endocrinologist with Alegent Health Clinic.
A recent study suggests that it enhances the body’s natural defense against bacterial infections. Other research associated lower blood and pulse pressure with having adequate vitamin D levels. There’s even growing evidence that not having enough vitamin D could be linked to an increased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even colon and breast cancer.
"Many people are surprised when they learn that they are low on vitamin D," said Dr. Ilahi. "Some complain of fatigue, muscle weakness, bone pain and irritability, which then improve after their vitamin D levels return to normal."
Sunlight is the largest single source of vitamin D. Regular sun exposure can stimulate the human skin to produce more vitamin D than we need. However, during the long winter months, the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D decreases or even disappears. Populations living in northern latitudes like ours have a hard time getting enough vitamin D, says Dr. Ilahi. Since very little vitamin D is obtained through diet, supplements are often prescribed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.
Here is more on vitamin D from Dr. Ilahi:
Who is most at risk for vitamin D deficiency?
Dr. Ilahi: Besides those living in colder areas with less sun exposure, these populations are at high risk: pregnant women; infants who are born in late winter or breastfed; vegans; the elderly; people with darker skin pigmentation (which absorbs less sun); obese individuals; and people with issues that interfere with the absorption of vitamin D.
Q: How much vitamin D do we need for optimal health?
Dr. Ilahi: The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D has been published to be anywhere from 600 to 800 IU a day. Depending on the degree of deficiency, a person can be asked to take anywhere from 1000 IU per day to 50,000 IU per week. Usually, a maintenance dose is between 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day, depending on circumstances.
Do I need to take vitamin D under my doctor’s supervision?
Dr. Ilahi: As long as you are taking the recommended dose, you do not need to be regulated by a physician.
What dosage do you recommend?
Dr. Ilahi: I usually advise my patients to take a daily maintenance vitamin D supplement and continue to eat a normal diet. In winter months, I sometimes increase the dosage because vitamin D is made in the body only in the summer months when exposed to the sun’s UVB radiation.
What foods can I eat to get more vitamin D?
Dr. Ilahi: Dietary sources of vitamin D include: Cod liver oil (one teaspoon has the equivalent of 400 IU of vitamin D); Fatty fish species - catfish, salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna and eel; beef and liver; UV-irradiated mushrooms; and these Vitamin D fortified foods – milk, orange juice, margarine and cereals.
Are there side effects from taking vitamin D?
Dr. Ilahi: Not commonly. However, taking too much vitamin D may cause vomiting, constipation, dehydration, irritability, bone pain, muscle problems, anorexia or fatigue. Vitamin D toxicity may cause an elevated calcium level as well.