Vitamin D: Vital Role in Your Health
Researchers conclude the 'sunshine vitamin' is good medicine.
By Richard Trubo
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
Vitamins like C and E continue to be the darlings of many supplement lovers. But those vitamin superstars are being forced to share their throne with the long neglected vitamin D, which is finally getting the attention it may have always deserved.
No doubt, you're probably familiar with the role of vitamin D in promoting healthy bones, largely by promoting the absorption of calcium. "If you have a vitamin D deficiency, particularly in your older years, it can lead to osteoporosis or osteomalacia [bone softening]," says Lona Sandon, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas.
But there is recent and mounting evidence that links low levels of the vitamin to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes, muscle and bone pain, and, perhaps more serious, cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, ovaries, esophagus, and lymphatic system.
If you want to lower your blood pressure, vitamin D may be just what the doctor ordered. If you're trying to reduce your risk of diabetes, or lower your chances of heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis, then vitamin D should be at the front of the line in your daily supplement regimen.
D-fense for Your Health
As the research into vitamin D is accumulating, it's hard to know where the accolades should start. "Activated vitamin D is one of the most potent inhibitors of cancer cell growth," says Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, who heads the Vitamin D, Skin, and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine. "It also stimulates your pancreas to make insulin. It regulates your immune system."
Just consider these recent studies:
Your D-Day Plan of Attack
Many vitamin D researchers are convinced the government's recommendations for adequate vitamin D intake are far below what your body really needs. Those guidelines call for 200 IU a day up to the age of 50, 400 IU from 51 to 70, and 600 IU over age 70.
But, says Holick, studies show that to achieve blood levels of vitamin D that can protect you against chronic diseases, you need an optimal dose of 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day. The vitamin is well absorbed from foods like fortified milk and from vitamin pills, whether taken alone or in combination with other foods.
So how can you get enough of this overlooked vitamin? Most foods aren't filled to the brim with vitamin D -- far from it. You can get 425 IU in a 3-ounce serving of salmon, and 270 IU in 3.5 ounces of canned sardines. But most foods provide much more modest amounts of vitamin D, from egg yolks (25 IU per egg) to cheddar cheese (2.8 IU per ounce).
"You'll get 200 IUs of vitamin D by drinking two glasses of fortified milk," says Sandon, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But at age 70, even reaching the government's recommended level of 600 IU from diet alone can be a challenge. "These people are probably not drinking six glasses of milk a day for various reasons, including a higher incidence of lactose intolerance in the elderly," she tells WebMD.
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