Summer is over, so it's time to talk vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin! And by the way, vitamin D deficiency is fairly common in those who live in warm sunny climates as well as colder climates.
Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble vitamins that can be obtained several ways: from exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet B), by consuming certain foods, and by taking supplements. In the summer months, most people meet their vitamin D needs through planned sun exposure like sunbathing or unintentionally from exercising outdoors in a T-shirt. Various factors affect our body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight including season, geographic latitude, time of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, age, and sunscreen. Direct sun exposure for 15 minutes three times a week, despite the factors mentioned above, is thought to keep our body’s vitamin D stores at healthy levels.
What to look for when grocery shopping?
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, and fish liver oils are the best sources. Vitamin D can also be found in small amounts in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and some mushrooms. Other foods have been fortified with vitamin D, thus do not naturally contain the vitamin, and include milk (cow, soy, and rice), some brands of orange juice, margarine, and yogurt. Breakfast cereals often contain around 10 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D as well. The Food and Drug Administration recommends at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily and up to about 2,000 IU is considered safe.
So why do we need it?
It seems like every day researchers are finding that vitamin D plays a role in almost every aspect of human metabolism. Research has suggested that vitamin D may aid in the reduction and protection from adverse cardiovascular events, hypertension, cancer, asthma, the insulin response, and several autoimmune diseases by modulating neuromuscular and immune function and helping to reduce inflammation. Vitamin D also helps control the cell life cycle keeping good cells and getting rid of cells that are no longer necessary. Vitamin D’s most well-known role in the body is to aid in the absorption and regulation of calcium; deficiency can result in a variety of bone disorders including rickets, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis, which currently affects more than 10 million Americans over 50. Like all vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is important in maintaining optimal health.
The next time you visit your physician, make sure you get your vitamin D levels checked, as many of us (even those lucky enough to live in sunny warm weather year round) are vitamin D deficient. If you are already aware that you don’t consume the natural or fortified sources of vitamin D on a regular basis, or do not have a varied, balanced diet, supplementation is probably something to consider. Always consult your health care provider before making any dietary changes.