Vitamin D: Are You Getting Enough?

A few years ago, vitamin D was almost unknown. Now, the so-called sunshine vitamin is regularly in the headlines and even known among the average consumers.

The first reason is that recent research has found that this essential nutrient does much more than help your body absorb the calcium it needs to build and maintain strong bones. It also appears to play a role in reducing the risk of many illnesses — including common cancers, autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular disease.

The second reason for this vitamin’s increasing notoriety: studies show vitamin D deficiency is commonplace in nearly every segment of society.

In fact, vitamin D levels appear lower among Americans today than 15 to 20 years ago, according to a recent report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers attribute vitamin D deficiency to many factors, including more time spent indoors and the increasing use of sun protection, which blocks skin from absorbing the sunlight it needs to create vitamin D naturally. Still, most health professionals continue to recommend limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen to protect against other problems, such as skin cancer.

Another problem may be that there are a limited number of foods that provide or are fortified with vitamin D. Many experts also believe that current government recommendations regarding adequate intakes of vitamin D are far too low. As a result, standard multivitamins, which are influenced by these recommendations, may do little to guard against deficiency. The U.S. government recommends adults get anywhere from 200 to 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day, depending on their age. However, many experts now say vitamin D intakes should be at least 800 to 1,000 IU a day in all adults. Some even recommend a higher daily intake.

If you’re over age 50, live in a northern latitude (where sunlight is rare in certain months), have darker skin or have a condition that makes it difficult for you to absorb nutrients, your risk of vitamin D deficiency may be even higher than it is for others.

Although vitamin D deficiency is a potentially serious problem, it can be avoided or corrected.

The first step is to talk with your doctor. If he or she is concerned about your vitamin D status, a blood test can be used to check for a deficiency. Your doctor can also advise you on how much vitamin D you should be getting every day and whether you should consider taking supplements to boost your daily intake.

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