Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, plays a powerful role in preventing disease and keeping bones strong. So powerful, in fact, that current guidelines recommend that most people should get at least 600 IU – and probably more – daily to reap the benefits of this unique nutrient. Though you can get Vitamin D from sun exposure and food sources, you may still need more D to meet today’s recommended daily dose.
Many People Are Missing D
Over one million people worldwide have low levels of vitamin D in their blood, and according to the Harvard School of Public Health, this is a global public health concern. Research on vitamin D continues to confirm its role in preventing disease, including heart disease, some cancers, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, as well as tuberculosis and the flu. Vitamin D also plays a key role in bone health, preventing bone diseases such as osteoporosis and rickets.
Not All Sources Are Equal
Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D is a hormone. With just 15 minutes of exposure to the sun each day, our bodies can synthesize it from cholesterol. But not everyone can get sufficient vitamin D this way. Those living in northern latitudes may not get enough sunny days to benefit. Dark-skinned people in all climates may also have trouble getting sufficient vitamin D from sunshine. Sun exposure raises the risk of skin cancer, too, so many people avoid the sun altogether or block its rays with sunscreen.
Vitamin D is available in food, too. Fatty fish such as tuna, cod liver oil, beef liver, eggs, cheese and mushrooms provide modest amounts of D, but nutritionists at the National Institutes of Health point out that it might be difficult to get the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) from diet alone, since some D-containing foods also contain harmful substances, such as mercury in fish and saturated fats and cholesterol in animal proteins.
Because natural sources for today’s RDA of vitamin D may not be an option for many people, supplements can help. The U.S. Institute of Medicine has mandated fortifying dairy products and cereals with vitamin D to meet the minimum RDA of 600 IU, but nutrition experts from the Harvard School of Public Health point out that most adults need 1400 IU or more to reap all of D’s benefits. Multivitamins and Vitamin D supplements can fill the gap.
Vitamins and Supplements Add Up
Standard multivitamins typically contain at least the mandated RDA of Vitamin D, but amounts vary, so it’s important to check. If your multi delivers less than 1000 IU of D, you might want to consider a dedicated Vitamin D supplement to get at least that amount. The Institutes of Medicine recently raised the upper limit for vitamin D consumption from 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU daily, so boosting your intake within those limits is generally safe. As always, though, it’s wise to check with your health professional about adding supplements.
Research continues on the long list of vitamin D’s benefits, but one thing is clear — getting enough of this unique sunshine vitamin is good for your health, even if it takes a little planning to get it.