1. Health

Getting More Vitamin D In Your Day

Vitamin D is More Than a Bone Builder

By

Updated June 06, 2014

Friends enjoying hillside
Kevin Kozicki/Image Source/Getty Images

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin whose major role is to aid in absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine and build and maintain bone mass. Beyond its function in calcium metabolism, it also has a role in reducing inflammation, preventing malignant cell growth, moderating immune function, and leveling mood.

Why Work so Hard at Getting D?

Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with many diseases and health conditions including cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure. The research is sometimes confusing about exactly why vitamin D is depleted in these conditions. It is possible that having low levels of this vitamin actually causes disease and breakdown of body processes. It is also possible that the underlying causes of these conditions cause the deficiency at the same time. What we do know is that people who have many of these conditions have very low levels of vitamin D, and researchers are now trying to find out whether supplementing with vitamin D will prevent and/or treat these conditions.

Are All “Ds” Created Equal?

There are several chemical compounds classified as vitamin D, and until recently it was thought that they were not equally bioavailable (capable of being put to effective use in the body).

Early research showed that the more effective type was vitamin D3. This is the type of vitamin D that you produce when your skin is exposed to sunlight; supplements are usually derived from animal sources of the vitamin. The other common type, vitamin D2, was thought to be not as effective. vitamin D2 is obtained from plant sources and is usually the type used to fortify milk and other foods. More recent research, however, finds that both types of vitamin D are equally effective in raising the levels of vitamin D in your body.

Are You Likely to Be D-Deficient?

There is a fair chance that you are not getting enough vitamin D. Depending on which study you read, as many as half to two thirds of adults are deficient in vitamin D. If you work indoors, always use sun block, live in a northern latitude, are over 50, and/or don’t take a daily supplement, you may well be low in this important vitamin.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

How much vitamin D you need is tricky. The recommended daily allowance is 200 IU per day until the age of 50, and 400 IU daily once you are over 50. But many experts think that is far too low. The recommendation was originally intended to prevent rickets in children, long before the role of vitamin D in so many other conditions had been explored.

The upper level of safe dosage is usually stated to be 2000 IU per day. This is also a controversial number, with some experts saying it is lower and some saying it is safe at much higher doses.

So how do you decide how much you need?

The most conservative approach is to take a supplement of 400IU per day and get out in the full sun at least 3 times a week for fifteen minutes at a time. This combination would be safe for almost all menopausal women. But for some, especially those who are never in the sun or have been vitamin D deficient for a long time, this would not be enough. If you think you may be vitamin D deficient, talk with your healthcare provider about what dosages would be good for you. He or she may recommend larger doses for a short period of time, then smaller maintenance doses after that.

How to Get More Vitamin D

There are several ways to boost your daily vitamin D:
  • Sunshine
    Sunshine is the most natural way to get vitamin D. The vitamin D you get this way is easily used by your body, it is free, and you can combine it with exercise for a great bone building combo. For white women who live where there is strong sunlight, about 15 to 20 minutes three times a week will usually produce enough vitamin D to keep you from being deficient.

    For some people, sunshine is difficult to come by. If you wear clothing that covers all of your skin, if you live in a northern or rainy climate, or if you are dark-skinned, you may have trouble getting enough sunshine to make adequate levels of vitamin D.

  • Food
    There are several food sources for vitamin D. Fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are sources of this vitamin, as are egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. Vitamin D-fortified milk and other foods are also good sources. The Office of Dietary Supplements' Vitamin D Fact Sheet offers additional food sources, as well as more information on vitamin D.

  • Supplements
    You can find vitamin D supplements in two forms: vitamin D2, and vitamin D3, as discussed earlier. There are still some unknowns about whether one type is superior to the other in preventing deficiency. If you have the choice of buying either, D3 is probably the better choice since there is longstanding evidence that it is more easily absorbed by the body.

Vitamin D and Drug Interactions

There are a number of medications that can interact with vitamin D. Check with your medical provider before you begin taking vitamin D supplements if you are taking any medications, but in particular:

Vitamin D can be your good friend in menopause. Finding healthy ways to get enough may help you stay strong and prevent many age-related health problems.

Sources:

Bischoff-Ferrari, HA, Giovannucci, E, Willett, WC, Dietrich, T, Dawson-Hughes, B, Estimation of optimal serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for multiple health outcomes, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 1, 18-28, July 2006. Retrieved 12 May, 2008.

National Institutes of health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved 12 May 2008.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.