More researchers every day are making a compelling argument for knowing your vitamin D levels. Make sure to ask your doctor to check your levels during your next check-up.
It may surprise you to learn that vitamin D is unlike most other vitamins. In fact, it’s actually a steroid hormone. Produced out of cholesterol when our skin is exposed to the sun.
If you live where there is abundant sun year round you can probably get all the vitamin D you need by just spending some time outdoors. The problem is that even those of us who live in sunny places are not meeting the levels our bodies require for optimal health.
People are not getting enough sun exposure because we spend so much of our time indoors, or covered head to toe in sunscreen. In order to ensure our levels are where they need to be, we need to make sure we’re getting enough of this vitamin in our diet or supplement with vitamin D3.
Unfortunately, very few foods contain significant amounts of this vitamin, which means deficiency is a real concern. Some studies believe that close to 42% of US population is now deficient in vitamin D. Certain individuals are at greater risk than others, with figures up to 82.1% in blacks and 69.2% in Hispanics suffering from this issue.
What’s more, people who have certain diseases are also very likely to be low in vitamin D. One study showed that 96% of heart attack patients were low on vitamin D. The elderly are also at a higher risk of being deficient. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is a silent epidemic, with symptoms subtle enough to ignore the signs until it’s too late. It sometimes takes years for symptoms to surface.
So what’s the solution? If you make the decision to get your vitamin D from the sun, make sure you never allow your skin to sunburn. Understand that a large area of your body must be exposed in order to see the benefits. If you’re staying in the sun for an extended period of time, consider going without sunscreen for the first 10-20 minutes, then go ahead and apply it before you start burning.
Those who are very fair may not be able to get away with this practice. What is encouraging is that vitamin D is stored in our bodies for weeks, even months. You may only need occasional sun exposure to keep your blood levels adequate.
What if you’re not blessed to live in a sunny location? In these cases getting vitamin D from foods or supplements becomes vital, especially during the winter months.
For years we have known that vitamin D affects the cells related to bone health. However, scientist have discovered that it is involved in other processes, like immune function and even protection against cancer. Low levels of this vitamin has been attributed to dementia and even autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Some potential benefits of getting plenty of vitamin D are that it can help prevent osteoporosis, and fractures in the elderly. Vitamin D can increase physical strength, in upper and lower limbs. It may help prevent cancer. Can assist with depression and reduce type 1 diabetes in infants. That’s a lot of benefit from one vitamin!
The vitamin D3 content of a few select foods
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon 1360 IU/34 mcg
Tuna, canned 3 ounces 154 IU/4 mcg
Salmon 3 ounces 447 IU/11 mcg
1 large egg 41 IU/1 mcg
1 sardine canned 23 IU/0.6 mcg
Beef liver, 3 ounces 42 IU/1 mcg.
The RDA for vitamin D in the US
400 IU (10 mcg): Infants, 0-12 months.
600 IU (15 mcg): Children and adults, 1-70 years of age.
800 IU (20 mcg): Elderly and pregnant or lactating women
For those who are deficient doctors will prescribe vitamin D in doses of 1000 or higher to bring your levels up. Make sure to take vitamin D3, not D2 when supplementing. As always check with your doctor before starting any form of supplementation.