Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for the body. The main active form, calcitriol, functions like a steroid hormone and has a very beneficial supportive effect on many organs in your body. It promotes a healthy heart and bones, a strong immune system, good kidney function and much more.
Why vitamin D?
When someone is found to be severely vitamin D deficient, they’re more likely to experience bone and skeletal deformity, easy bone fractures and muscle weakness. Research shows this is because, when lacking in vitamin D, the human body can only absorb and utilize between 10 and 15 percent of the dietary calcium we consume, which is essential for bone and tissue health. But we now know a lower level of vitamin D deficiency also puts an individual at a higher risk for certain types of cancer, infections, autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular issues.
For these reasons and more, getting enough vitamin D on a daily basis is essential, but it can be challenging.
How to Get Sufficient Vitamin D
We can obtain vitamin D naturally from exposure to sunlight, some food sources, and dietary supplements. The best way to achieve adequate amounts of vitamin D within the body is through sun assisted synthesis in the skin -- rather than through supplements. For many people, exposure to 15 to 20 minutes of uninterrupted sunlight on a daily basis (meaning without the use of sunscreen or sunblock) may be enough.
However, because of the well documented dangers of unprotected sun exposure, fewer people are getting the natural vitamin D so vital to their health. The Institute of Medicine recommended daily amount of vitamin D for an adult up to 70 years of age is 600 IU and 800 IU for older adults. However, other reputable organizations recommend a higher dose. Time spent in the sun may do the trick, but we know that even people living in the sun belt develop vitamin D deficiency. So, if an additional dietary source is required, high fat fish such as tuna and salmon can be a solution. Eggs and fortified cereals are often recommended and all milk and dairy products enhanced with vitamin D can supply the required amounts.
Although Vitamin D toxicity from too much supplementation is unusual, it's felt the highest tolerable daily dose for most adults is 4,000 IU. Why risk toxicity, which may be quite serious, when you can test for adequate levels with a simple blood test? If your blood levels are over 30 ng/mL, you have an optimal intake from sun, diet and supplementation. There is no scientific evidence pushing this to higher levels is beneficial and it can be harmful.
Additional Benefits of Vitamin D
Many people wonder if there is more risk in sun exposure than in vitamin D deficiency. The simplest answer is vitamin D is just too beneficial to the body to allow yourself to become deficient. In addition to calcium absorption and bone health, vitamin D can also be beneficial for the following reasons:
Prevention of diabetes
Prevention of muscle pain and weakness
Lowering blood pressure
Decreasing the chance of a heart attack, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer
Treating seasonal mood disorders and depression
Making a conscious effort to get more vitamin D on a daily basis helps the body in more ways than one. Your doctor can determine if you’re lacking in vitamin D and help you determine the appropriate daily amount for your specific needs. Everyone is different and while we have good general scientifically based guidelines, there may be special circumstances in any individual.