Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins your body can make on its own (with help from the sun). Letting your skin be exposed to the sun just 30 minutes, twice a week, will provide your body with 90% of the Vitamin D it needs for good health. But are you outdoors that often? With the scare of sunburn, wrinkles, and skin cancer and the type of lifestyle many live these days (especially in the winter), most people hide indoors away from the sun and don’t get enough Vitamin D.
Combine lack of sun exposure with the fact very few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, and you have a recipe for vitamin deficiency. What’s the purpose of Vitamin D and how can you make sure you’re getting enough? Should you take a supplement? You’re about to find out.
The main job of Vitamin D is to help the body absorb calcium. Calcium, as you know, works to build and maintain strong bones. Children who don’t get enough Vitamin D are at risk for rickets (soft bones) and deficient adults may develop brittle or misshapen bones and are at risk for osteoporosis.
In addition to bone health, Vitamin D plays a role in your immune and neuromuscular systems, the life cycle of cells, and the reduction of inflammation. While more research and evidence are needed, a lack of Vitamin D has been associated with many other issues, including weight gain, depression, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease. Vitamin D may help treat or prevent diabetes, autoimmune disease, depression, autism, pain, cancer, heart disease, and neuromuscular diseases.
There are three ways you can get Vitamin D. The best way is how nature intended—through sunlight. When bare skin is touched by sunlight, it produces Vitamin D. Because of the dangers of overexposure to UV rays from the sun, however, you need to be vigilant against sunburns. How much Vitamin D your body is able to produce from the sun depends on where you live, the time of day, the color of your skin, how long you’re exposed, and how much skin is exposed.
Few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, but several foods are fortified with it. Vitamin D is found in wild-caught salmon, mackerel, mushrooms, cod liver oil, egg yolks, cheese, tuna packed in water, sardines packed in oil, and beef liver. These days many milks, cereals, yogurts, and orange juices are fortified with vitamin D. Since these foods contain only small amounts of Vitamin D, it’s very hard to get enough of this important vitamin if foods are your only source.
Supplements are your third source of Vitamin D and are a good option if you’re concerned you’re not getting enough. The most recommended type of supplement is vitamin D3. Available in tablets or capsules, this form of Vitamin D is made from fish liver oil or sheep’s wool.
While health experts disagree on the amount of Vitamin D you need, the Institute of Medicine recommends that unless you’re getting enough sun exposure, kids over the age of nine and adults 70 and under should get at least 600 IU of Vitamin D a day but less than 4,000 IU/day. Adults age 71 and older should get at least 800 IU/day.
One cup of Vitamin D-fortified milk provides 25% of your daily recommendations. Four ounces of wild-caught salmon contain over 500 IU, and one egg provides 43 IU, or 10% of your daily recommendations.
If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough Vitamin D in your diet or through the sun, a simple blood test can help determine your levels. If you’re deficient, a supplement may be just what you need.
Now get outside!
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and the owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.