You may have noticed stories about Vitamin D in the news lately. The so-called “sunshine vitamin” not only strengthens bones – it’s reported to have other important health benefits as well.
“Some studies have shown that vitamin D can lower your risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes and depression,” said Michael Young, MD, a primary care physician at Baptist Primary Care in Tapestry Park.
Although the studies are not definitive, there’s no doubt that vitamin D plays an important role in overall health, according to Dr. Young. Its main function is promoting calcium absorption to strengthen bones, but it also helps regulate the immune and neuromuscular systems and plays a major role in reducing inflammation.
“Every cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor,” said Dr. Young. “It regulates genes that control cell growth and development, immune function and metabolic control. Yet 42% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D.”
This could be because many people don’t get enough sun, the primary way to get vitamin D. “To make enough vitamin D, you need between five and 30 minutes of sun twice a week,” said Dr. Young.
This doesn’t mean slathering on the baby oil and sunbathing like in the good old days. Just getting outdoors – going for a walk or a bike ride a couple of times a week will help increase your vitamin D levels. If you have a history of skin cancer, you should find alternative ways to boost vitamin D.
Eating vitamin-D-rich foods can help boost your levels. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1000–4000 IU (international units), or 25–100 micrograms daily. Here are some foods that are high in vitamin D:
- Herring and sardines
- Cod liver oil
- Canned tuna
- Egg yolks
There are other foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as cow’s milk, soy milk and some types of orange juice and oatmeal.
If those foods don’t spark your taste buds, you can take an over-the-counter vitamin D supplement. “Make sure you get Vitamin D3 rather than D2 – it may cost a bit more, but it is better at sustaining adequate blood levels of vitamin D,” said Dr. Young.
If you’re concerned about your vitamin D level, talk to your primary care doctor.