Q: I’m hearing a lot about vitamin D benefits. What are they exactly, and am I getting them?
A: Hollywood has its “girl”, fashion has its “must-have” and the nutrition world, well, we have our “nutrient”. Vitamin D has been the “it” vitamin for the past couple of years. I get why.
A little background on this sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is fat soluble (meaning your body stores it). But, many of us aren’t meeting our recs.
An increasing number of Americans are being diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. You’re most at risk of deficiency if you are elderly, have dark skin, are obese, eat a poor diet or live in an area with a high latitude such as the northern part of the United States and Canada.
We used to think of vitamin D benefits strictly as bone health, and it’s most famously known as the vitamin we can make from the sun (the deets on that below).
But, as this amazing thing called research is revealing, we’re understanding more about the role of this powerful vitamin in our bodies. Here’s a bit of the latest vitamin D happenings:
How exactly does vitamin D benefit us?
- Helps you say a sparkly “cheese”: Vitamin D helps calcium and phosphorus work in developing bones and teeth, preventing bones from growing misshapen
- May help your noggin’: Research shows that vitamin D may help maintain a healthy nervous system. Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to increased risk of disease of the central nervous system.
- May make your x-rays look like you are a super hero: Vitamin D helps prevent us from losing calcium and phosphorus in urine AND stimulates cells to mature and skeletons to function
- Helps you not have to say, “Can you hear me now?”: Vitamin D helps with maintenance of bones in ears for hearing
Research on vitamin D benefits is also being conducted in:
- Helping to get you into your skinny jeans: The relationship between vitamin D and insulin and blood sugar regulation is being researched
- Helping you squash a family history of cancer: The role of vitamin D and cancer prevention or treatment by changing growth of cells is being studied
- Helping to get you through the winter without the sniffles: Researchers are busy studying vitamin D and immunity support and the defense against infection
What’s the sun got to do with it?
Vitamin D is synthesized in your skin. In other words, kind of like plants undergo photosynthesis, we create it in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight.
Recommendations for 20 minutes of early morning sunlight or late day sun should be enough to cover your needs. Remember that slathering on sunscreen will protect you from the sun and block the absorption of vitamin D. Your derm (and me as well!) will tell you to be diligent about sunscreen at all other times of the day. And if you don’t religiously wear it you probably get enough without having to focus on theses 20 minutes. In other words, don’t skimp on the sun protection.
And if I want to eat it?
Of course, we do get vitamin D from food as well.
The American diet is not as rich or enriched in vitamin D as it is in other vitamins, but it is found in:
- Fortified milk
- Cod-liver oil
- Fortified cereals
What about supplements?
If you are low in vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe a supplement.
I’m a fan of many supplements (there is a time and place for some) but popping over the counter vitamin D isn’t always the best answer (although a prescribed dosage can safely help you meet your needs.)
Overdoing it in pill form can be toxic to the liver, so it should be monitored. Best to get your vitamin D from food and sunshine, which is how your liver and fat cells best store and use it as needed.