Vitamin D, more than just good for your bones.

Vitamin D is important for good overall health and strong healthy bones. There is more and more researching showing that vitamin D may be important for many other reasons than good bone health. Vitamin D helps support the immune system and helps you to fight infection as well as cancer. Low vitamin D levels may play a role in a variety of cancers, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. It can help with your energy and improve your mood for those with seasonal affective disorder. In my clinic, I generally like people to have a blood level of vitamin D 25-OH of at least 60ng/ml.

The two best ways to get vitamin D are by exposing your skin to sunlight and by taking vitamin D supplements. You can get vitamin D from food, but it may be harder to get the right amount from food alone since there are few foods that contain vitamin D. Foods that contain vitamin D include fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, fortified milk and orange juice, fortified cereals and infant formula.

We can make vitamin D from exposing our skin to sunlight. However, a lot of people don’t make adequate levels of vitamin D because they stay indoors often, or cover up with sunblock or clothes to protect their skin. Research to date shows that moderate but frequent sun exposure is healthy but overexposure and intense exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer.

So how much sun exposure do you need?

We really only need a small amount of sun exposure daily to make the vitamin D our body needs. Our skin can produce 10,000IU to 25,000Iu of vitamin D in as little as 15 minutes depending on the time of day, where you live in the world and the color of your skin. A fair skinned person can produce this amount of vitamin D in just 15 minutes and a dark skinned person may require a longer period of time. A guideline that help determine how much time to spend in the sun, is to spend half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink or burn. Sometimes, even despite living in a sunny place and being outdoors, your vitamin D levels may be low. There are many factors that can affect how much vitamin D your body makes from exposure to the sun. It may be best to talk to your doctor if you have concerns and get your vitamin D levels measured.

What are the recommendations for Vitamin D supplementation?

Different organizations have different recommendations for vitamin D supplementation. The Food and Nutrition board recommends 400IU/day for infants, 600IU/day for children and adults, and 800IU/day for seniors. The vitamin D council recommends a larger amount based on various research showing the importance of higher levels of vitamin D intake to achieve optimal levels, and recommends 5000IU/day for adults and no more than 10,000IU of vitamin D a day.  Most people can take vitamin D supplements without any problems. Generally if you take too much vitamin D, you’re at risk of having too much calcium in your blood, so it is good to evaluate your levels if you are taking vitamin D. Also before supplementing with higher levels of vitamin D, check in with your doctor to get your levels checked and to make sure you are not taking any medication that may be affected by taking vitamin D or have certain medical conditions in which you shouldn’t take high levels of vitamin D.

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