Vital Vitamin D
Recent research has found that 75 percent of Americans are not receiving the recommended amounts of vitamin D. The resulting deficiency can have a negative impact on the immune system, which can increase the risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a variety of autoimmune conditions.
In 1997, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine recommended that American adults consume 200 IU of vitamin D each day. At the time, this recommendation seemed reasonable based on available research. The recommendations were actually aimed at preventing rickets, a vitamin D deficiency disease in children characterized by inadequate mineralization of bone. Vitamin D was praised exclusively for its ability to assist in absorption of in calcium and phosphorus.
But as the years have passed and vitamin D research has exploded, researchers are now recommending five to 10 times more vitamin D for the average adult. In November 2010, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM) changed the RDA for vitamin D from 200 IU to 600 IU for individuals aged one to 70 years.
The recommendation is increased further from 600 to 800 IU for individuals aged 71 years and older due to reduced efficiency at making vitamin D via exposure to ultraviolet light, reduced outdoor activity, all-concealing clothing, and inadequate vitamin D intake. Finally, the tolerable upper intake level, the level below which vitamin D intake is considered safe, has been increased from 1,000 IU to 4,000 IU.
The skin can manufacture vitamin D when exposed to the ultraviolet rays offered by a tanning bed, but only at the risk of deadly skin cancer. Foods and supplements are a much safer bet to ensure you get your Ds.
Because there are only a few natural food sources of vitamin D available, including fatty fish, fish oils, and fortified milk, alternate sources of vitamin D appear essential to satisfy current recommendations. Consuming fatty fish at least two times per week will not only boost your vitamin D intake but will provide your body with heart-healthy, inflammation-busting omega-3 fats as well.
In addition to a variety of vitamin D-fortified foods, aim for two to three servings of low-fat, vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt, or orange juice every day. If it is challenging for you to consume these foods day in and day out, then you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement daily.
The Versatile Sunshine Vitamin
Unlike any other nutrient, vitamin D can be made in the skin when the sun is shining. Individuals with fair skin should aim for 10 to 15 minutes, and those with dark skin 30 minutes, of unprotected sun exposure to the face, arms, and hands (25 percent of the skin's surface) two to three times a week between the hours of 10
Factors to Keep in Mind
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As with all things in life, there are factors that must be considered when determining whether or not you receive enough vitamin D. First, if you use sunscreen with an SPF of eight or greater, your body's ability to synthesize vitamin D is drastically reduced. A good rule of thumb is to put your sunscreen on right before you head outside. Since it takes a good 20 minutes for sunscreen to become fully effective, you will get the rays necessary for some decent vitamin D production before your sun protection kicks in.
Second, for those living in northern areas of the country, your skin is unable to synthesize any vitamin D between the months of November and February. A supplement is highly advised during these "D"eficient months.
And third, the older you are, the less efficient your skin is at making vitamin D from the sun. For most healthy individuals, young and old, and especially vegetarians who avoid dairy products, a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement containing at least 400 IU to 600 IU of vitamin D is highly recommended. Choose supplements that provide the more absorbable vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, versus vitamin D2, and take the supplement with meals to enhance its absorption.