Vitamin D is important to the body in many ways. Muscles need it to move, nerves need it to carry messages though out the body, and the immune system uses vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses. You need to get enough vitamin D for calcium to be properly absorbed. Not enough vitamin D in adults can lead to osteomalica (brittle bones), causing bone pain and muscle weakness. There is also growing research about additional vitamin D benefits for other medical problems and diseases.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) some Americans may be vitamin D deficient while few have levels that are too high. The daily amount recommended varies by age, with 600 IU (International units) for ages 19-70 and 800 IU for over age 71.
Certain groups may not get enough Vitamin D:
- Older adults, since their Vitamin D effect from the sun is less efficient
- People with dark skin, since their skin has less ability to produce vitamin D from the sun
- People with disorders such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, who don’t handle fat properly, because Vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.
- Obese people, since body fat can prevent Vitamin D from getting into the blood.
We can get vitamin D from foods, supplements or the sun. Very few foods naturally have vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are good sources. Cheese, liver, and eggs also provide small amounts. Many foods especially milk products and cereals are fortified with vitamin D.
The easiest way to get vitamin D is to get some sun. The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun, and most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way. Skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Cloudy days, shade, and having dark-colored skin also cut down on the amount of vitamin D the skin makes.
If you aren’t exposed to outdoor sunlight on a regular basis, ask your healthcare provider whether you should take vitamin D supplements.
Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH) nih.gov. health, Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA), http://www.fda.gov
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