The Sunshine Vitamin: Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because the body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun.  You may want to take a vitamin D supplement if you routinely use sunscreens or avoid the sun.   Sunscreen inhibits the production of vitamin D.  Sunscreens and protective clothing prevent ability to make vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is important for good health.    Vitamin D is crucial to help the body absorb calcium for strong bones.   Vitamin D helps metabolize minerals for normal growth and development of bones and teeth.  Vitamin D helps maintain healthy functioning of nerves and muscles.  Vitamin D is important for prevention of rickets in young children.   Vitamin D deficiency in adults can cause a condition of painful bones and muscle weakness known as osteomalacia.   Osteoporosis as a result of a longstanding lack of vitamin D and calcium can cause fragile bones (especially in older women). 

The best way to tell if you are getting enough vitamin D is checking blood levels of  25-hydroxyvitamin D.    Vitamin D level is described in either nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) or nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).   In general, levels below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL) are too low for bone or overall health.

Some vitamin D can be obtained by eating foods naturally rich in Vitamin D and fortified foods.
Foods Naturally Rich in Vitamin D 
·       Fish Oil
·       Fatty Fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines)
·       Oysters
·       Eggs
·       Mushrooms
Vitamin D Fortified Foods
·      Milk and Dairy Products
·      Grains and Cereals
·      Orange Juice
·      Soy products (tofu and soymilk)

It is difficult to get sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from dietary sources alone.  Vitamin D supplements can be purchased in the form of tablets, capsules, or liquid.   The suggested amount of vitamin D depends on your age.   The RDA recommended daily allowance is 600 IU (international units) for most people.   Experts say that individuals who avoid sun exposure should be taking supplements of 1,000 IU or more.  Generally, Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol is preferred as more effective, especially in larger doses (as compared to Vitamin D2 ergocalciferol). 

Information from:
1. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Reviewed: February 04, 2011

2. Am J Clin Nutr.  2006, Oct;84(4):694-7.  The case against ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) as a vitamin supplement.  Houghton LA, Vleth R.


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