The Important Vitamin You’re Probably Lacking
from HealthyWomen’s e-newsletter, HealthyWomen Take 10
On the seemingly ever-changing list of what vitamins and minerals we ought to be taking—and in what amounts—vitamin D has long been a solid, boring standard. For years, we were told that we’d have our needs covered if we drank fortified milk, got a few minutes of daily sun exposure (which delivers the vitamin directly to us through our skin), or took calcium or multivitamin supplements containing additional amounts of vitamin D.
That accepted wisdom is no longer. Recent research shows that many people living in the United States and around the world are getting insufficient levels of vitamin D, putting them at risk for health problems. If you spend a lot of time indoors at work or home, have dark skin, are older or severely overweight or have certain medical conditions, you’re more likely to be vitamin D deficient. Even if you spend a lot of time outdoors but wisely cover up with sunscreen or sunblock, you also keep the vitamin D in sunlight from reaching your skin and being stored by your body.
Getting insufficient vitamin D has long been known to contribute to lower bone density, osteoporosis and bone fractures. (Adding vitamin D to calcium supplements helps the body better absorb the calcium it needs.) Now, having low levels of vitamin D has also been linked to cardiovascular risk and death, several cancers (including breast cancer in younger women), liver disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, diabetes, periodontal disease and falls (caused by weakened muscles).
Although a handful of foods contain vitamin D, it’s nearly impossible to eat the amount of the nutrient you need. Sun exposure can be hard to control safely and effectiveness varies. Taking vitamin D in supplement form is the most reliable way to get what you need.
Many experts now believe that the level of daily vitamin D once thought necessary for good health (400 IU for adults) was set too low. Talk with your health care provider about your specific needs and whether you should have your vitamin D level checked by a simple blood test.
In the United States, the Institute of Medicine is reviewing whether the daily vitamin D amount for adults should be raised, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has already recommended that levels for infants, children and adolescents be raised to 400 IU. Many researchers and physicians now contend that 1,000 IU should be the adult level. Don’t take more than that without getting a doctor’s advice.
For more on bone and joint health, visit: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/bone-and-joint
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