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Health Benefits of Vitamin D

By Scripps AMG
Adults running along San Diego's beach

An adequate daily amount of vitamin D is beneficial not only for the health of your bones and teeth, but also for your overall well-being. Studies have shown that high amounts of vitamin D can act as a protective defense against cancer, diabetes, and a multitude of other diseases. With summer upon us, now is a perfect time to head outdoors for your daily dose of this essential nutrient.

Where does vitamin D come from, and why is it important?

When we expose ourselves to the sun’s UVB rays, our bodies begin to synthesize vitamin D, which helps us absorb and regulate calcium and phosphorus. This is important not only for maintaining normal blood levels, but also in mitigating a range of other health concerns.

Most people learn about the role of calcium in building strong bones at a young age, but this nutrient becomes increasingly important as we age and begin to lose bone density. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which works to protect the central nervous system and strengthen muscles.

Vitamin D is not only essential for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth; it also helps fight common infections such as the seasonal cold and the flu. It can lower blood pressure and may even help prevent cancer and diabetes. Recent studies have also shown that high doses of vitamin D can reduce your risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. It may even increase fertility rate among women by as much as 6 percent.

Research also suggests that high doses of vitamin D can help improve your mood and fight depression. It can also promote weight loss and prevent heart disease with its potential to lower blood pressure. Studies show that people who maintain high levels of vitamin D also experience lower incidences of Alzheimer’s disease.

The importance of vitamin D has often been linked to calcium, which is key to maintaining bone health. The best method for absorbing calcium is to make sure you have plenty of nutrients, in particular, the “sunshine vitamin,” fat-soluble vitamin D, which may be even more important than high levels of calcium.

 

What can you do to get more daily vitamin D?

Thanks to recent studies such as those mentioned above, vitamin D, like vitamins C and E, has become one of the most popular supplements on the market today. However, most over-the-counter multivitamin supplements will only provide you with half the necessary daily dose of vitamin D. The optimal amount of daily vitamin D is 50-70 ml.

The Food and Nutrition board recommends children and adults receive between 400 and 600 IUs of vitamin D every day while older people should have 800 IUs. While one glass of milk provides about 15 percent (or about 10 micrograms) of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, according to the Vitamin D Council, food alone is not enough to get a sufficient amount in the body.

Sunlight is the best method for obtaining this essential nutrient. When the skin absorbs ultraviolet rays, the body produces vitamin D. Unfortunately, not all of us live in the sunniest locales. Even if we’re lucky enough to live in somewhere like San Diego, tall buildings in big cities and heavily wooded areas create shade that blocks the sun our bodies need to thrive. Sitting in an office all day might pay the bills, but it can also deprive us of vitamin D because we are not getting enough sunlight. But all is not lost—even on a cloudy workday there are plenty of other healthy ways to get vitamin D.

Foods which are naturally rich in vitamin D include fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and even shrimp. Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, including milk, yogurt, soy milk, orange juice, and cereal. Vitamin D can also be found in cheese and egg yolks.

People who prefer a vegan diet may look into taking supplements such as plant-derived oral sprays or foods like tofu and raw mushrooms like Portobello, shiitake, morel, and button. Pro tip: the longer these vegetables are exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D they are likely to contain! Try letting them sit by the window before putting them on a salad.

 

What are some dangers of not getting enough vitamin D?

With nearly half the population at risk of vitamin D deficiency, it’s important to make sure that you are getting a sufficient amount. In addition to weakening muscle strength and stamina, as well as creating the danger of potential bone fracturing from sudden falls, low levels of this nutrient can also put you at risk for type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Symptoms that may point to a deficiency of vitamin D include feeling tired, having aching muscles and joint pain, as well as difficulty climbing and walking. The older we get, the more important it is to make sure our bodies have enough vitamin D and calcium to protect us from harmful bacteria, maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.

If you have any questions, you should always consult your doctor first. A simple blood test can often tell you if you are lacking vitamins, while X-rays will help determine the strength of your bones. Boost your immune system and send hypertension into remission by making vitamin D an essential daily supplement to your diet. Remember to get plenty of sun, but don’t forget your sunscreen!

Talk to your Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups specialist about supplements rich in vitamin D, and if they would be a good decision for you.

CATEGORIES: Active LifestylesChronic CareParentsSan Diego