Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is good for bones, and, researchers are now discovering, much more. Are you getting enough vitamin D? Find out from Pritikin's nutrition experts.

By helping absorb calcium into bone matter, Vitamin D helps keep bones strong. “Vitamin D also plays an important role in cell differentiation [the process in which young cells reach maturity and function as specialized cells]. Low levels of D appear to increase the risk of cancer and some autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes,” notes Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

Your body can manufacture adequate vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun.  Fortified milk and soymilk as well as some fish (see list below) are excellent sources of vitamin D, too.

If you’re outdoors without sunscreen for 15 minutes two to three times a week, you’re probably getting enough sunlight to make all the vitamin D you need.  And for most individuals, 15 minutes is not enough to burn skin.

Northern Latitudes – Are you getting enough vitamin D?

But where you live is critical. Several studies on elderly women in Maine and Massachusetts found that during the winter months, Vitamin D levels in the blood drop, sometimes to very low levels, and at the same time bone density drops.  So if you’re north of Atlanta and Los Angeles, the sun’s rays during late fall and winter months are probably too weak to penetrate the skin deep enough to trigger much vitamin D synthesis.

1,000 IU Daily

“If you’re in latitudes north of L.A. and Atlanta, taking a Vitamin D supplement may make sense, especially if your dietary intake is less than 1000 IU per day,” advises Dr. Kenney. “Take about 1,000 IU of Vitamin D daily. Up to 2,000 IU appear safe for nearly all adults.”

Vitamin D also helps maintain muscle strength, a plus for everybody, but especially for older people, who often struggle with leg muscle weakness and are therefore at high risk of falling (which often leads to crippling fractures).

Recent research found that elderly people, even without vitamin D deficiencies, reduced their risk of falls after taking vitamin D supplements.* The investigators randomly assigned 625 men and women in residential care facilities, average age 83, to one of two groups. The first received vitamin D supplementation – 1,000 IUs daily. The second took a placebo. All of the residents took 600 milligrams of calcium daily.

At the end of two years, the seniors in the vitamin D group cut their risk of falls by 37% compared to seniors in the placebo group. “This study highlights the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation in older populations.” concluded lead author Leon Flicker, MD, and colleagues at the School of Medicine at the University of Western Australia.

Are you getting enough vitamin D from sunlight?

Sunlight
Recommendation: 15 minutes of sun exposure on your face, hands, and arms (without sunscreen) two to three times weekly. In the early morning and late afternoon, the sun’s rays are much weaker, so don’t count on making enough vitamin D then.

Supplementation
A good idea if you are over 60, live in northern climes, and do not regularly eat foods that are good sources of D. Recommended amount: 1,000 IU daily.

Food Sources

Salmon (cooked, 3.5 oz) 360 IU
Sardines (canned, 1.75 oz) 250 IU
Tuna, canned (3 oz) 200 IU
Milk, cow’s (1 cup, nonfat) 100 IU
Milk, soy, fortified (1 cup 100 IU

* Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2005; 53: 1881.

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