The Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the sunshine VitaminYou probably know how important it is to get the right amount of vitamins every day. Focusing on just one or two is simply not enough since each one has specific benefits for your body and your overall health. Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that most people never get enough of, but should. It has tremendous healing and preventative powers that cannot and should not be overlooked.

Vitamin D regulates phosphorous and calcium in your body and is very important in maintaining your body’s bone structure. For these reasons, Vitamin D is often used to treat and prevent a wide variety of conditions including osteoporosis, osteomalacia (bone pain), bone loss, brittle bone diseases and rickets. It is also used for conditions involving the blood vessels and the heart like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchitis. Vitamin D has also been used to treat diseases of the teeth and gums.

Most of the Vitamin D that people get (80%-90%) is actually through sun exposure. However, it is still not enough—especially if you live in a predominantly cloudy or dark part of the world, or spend most of your time indoors. This can be rectified a bit by exposing your face, arms, hands and legs to the sun for as little as a quarter of the time it would take for you to develop a light sunburn. This small amount of time is enough to get your body to naturally produce Vitamin D. The one caveat, however, is that the exposure needs to be done without sunscreen which is why only a short amount of time is recommended or required.

If you suffer from certain skin conditions like psoriasis, vitilligo, scleroderma or lupus vulgaris, Vitamin D may be prescribed. Finally, it can also be used to prevent certain autoimmune diseases, boost your immune system or prevent specific cancers.

Older people tend to be at the greatest risk for being Vitamin D deficient because they often spend little to no time in the sun and are not able to convert the sunlight into Vitamin D as effectively as younger people. Their bodies also may have difficulty converting Vitamin D from foods because of their kidneys being less productive due to older age. Usually a Vitamin D supplement is necessary for people who are older the age of sixty-five in order to prevent a deficiency.

Smaller amounts of Vitamin D are found in a handful of foods like fatty fish including tuna and sardines. Today, many dairy products have added it and are usually given the label “fortified with Vitamin D.” Juices and cereals are also foods that get added Vitamin D. Even with the sun and the foods, you still may not be getting enough Vitamin D. In that case, a supplement may be recommended.

So how much Vitamin D do you need? Depending on your age and needs, the amount can vary. Most supplements have just 400 IU of Vitamin D in them. Older adults (over the age of fifty years) looking to prevent fractures or osteoporosis, 800-1000 IU per day is recommended. Adults under the age of fifty only need 400-800 IU. Healthy adults up to the age of seventy years need 600 IU daily. Adults who are seventy-one years of age and older should take 800 IU daily. However, women who or are either pregnant or breastfeeding should only take a daily amount of 600 IU.

If you are a woman who is at risk for a Vitamin D deficiency, the recommendation from the North American Menopause Society is 700-800 IU per day. Overall, anyone at risk for a Vitamin D deficiency should take a supplement year-round. The current recommendation from experts with regards to Vitamin D supplements is that it should contain cholecalciferol which has been found to be more effective than ergocalciferol which is a different form of Vitamin D.

While Vitamin D supplements are fairly safe, too much can cause side effects like fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, a dry mouth, nausea, vomiting and headaches. People with kidney disease, sarcoidosis, histoplasmosis, hyperparathyroidism and lymphoma need to be careful about the amount they take. Too much can cause high levels of calcium in the blood which may lead to problems including kidney stones and hardening of the arteries—especially for those who already suffer from kidney disease.

If you are unsure whether or not you need to take a Vitamin D supplement or increase your sun exposure, consult your doctor. He or she can let you know the best approach to take so that you do not become deficient or take too much of it. If you do have a pre-existing condition or are pregnant or breastfeeding, let your doctor know as that will affect the amount you take and any possible side effects. Getting enough Vitamin D is important for your health, so make sure, like all other vitamins and minerals, you are getting your fair share.


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