Many people have heard rumblings and murmurs about vitamin D lately. But do you need to take it? I get enough sunlight, you’re thinking, do I really need to worry about it?
In a word: yes. You should be taking vitamin D.
There’s a growing body of research that shows a boatload of benefits from Vitamin D. We used to just recommend vitamin D for the prevention of osteoporosis. But we’ve gone way beyond that now. Seems this is one little vitamin with big dreams. And it’s turning up in all sorts of unexpected places, making itself useful at the preventive health party (mingling, mixing martinis for people, doing the dishes after the guests leave…)
So. It looks like adults with low levels of vitamin D have increased risks of heart disease—specifically heart attacks and hypertension. Taking supplements appears to help prevent cancer, with the strongest evidence so far for colorectal cancer. It also seems to play a role in preventing depression. And diabetes. It also appears to help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation, which might help reduce the risks of autoimmune disease, and infections such as influenza.
Does that all sound good?
So, onto pumping up your D quotient. Turns out D-deficiency is something of an epidemic. Vitamin D is manufactured in your skin, with sunlight exposure. But most of us don’t get enough sunlight to make sufficient amounts. And we shouldn’t try, either! Skin cancer, anyone? Wrinkles? No thank you. I’ll take my vitamin D in oral form. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to get sufficient amounts in food. Fortified dairy and breakfast cereals, and fatty fish are sources, but you’re probably not going to meet your needs through food alone. This is where supplementation comes in.
How much to take? Official recommendations from the Institute of Medicine look a little like this: 600 IU for people up to age 70, 800 IU for people over 70. But most health care providers (me included) seem to advise 1000 IU daily. Infants and kids should be getting 400 IU daily.
If you’re curious, you can get a blood test to diagnose deficiency. But based on all the research, and the fact that vitamin D is cheap, readily available, and safe, my thinking is that people should be taking a supplement regardless.
One caveat: don’t go getting all vitamin D slap happy. Take too much and you run the risk of kidney stones. Ouch.