Vitamin D is one of those necessary vitamins our bodies need to perform at its best and yet is not naturally present in many of the foods we eat. Luckily, it is produced by our bodies when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The liver and the kidneys get in on the process by converting the newly-made vitamin D to forms of D that are used directly by the body.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
This vitamin promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus which in turn helps to enable our bones to form correctly. A lack of vitamin D can cause thin, brittle, or misshapen bones in children and osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults. Rickets used to be a problem with children who grew up without the benefit of vitamin D being added to milk. Their bones were soft and often malformed.
Some researchers and scientists believe that vitamin D is also beneficial in preventing autism, type 1 diabetes, schizophrenia, mood disorders, and even cancer. Studies have shown that vitamin D may even make losing weight easier.
Besides all of these benefits, vitamin D also promotes cell growth, immune function, neuromuscular maintenance, and reduces inflammation. There are many reasons why this vitamin keeps our bodies functioning to capacity. The recommended daily requirement of vitamin D is not very high. For most adults it is between 600 and 800 international units daily. Those who are over the age of 70 require the most at 800 IU.
Best Food Sources of Vitamin D
To get the recommended amounts of this vitamin try to eat some of the following foods which contain vitamin D:
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel) or fish liver oils
- Beef liver, cheese, egg yolks
- Mushrooms (the only vegetable that provides a substantial amount of vitamin D)
- Fortified milk, yogurt, margarine, orange juice (check labels–they are not all fortified with vitamin D)
- Fortified breakfast cereals and oatmeal (again check labels)
- Fortified infant formula (available in the US and Canada)
Vitamin D Supplements May Be the Answer
If you don’t like the above foods, supplements are available with this important vitamin in it. There are people who need to supplement for certain reasons such as those who have little sun exposure, especially those who live in northern areas where weather does not permit extended periods of time outdoors. Those who are ill and must stay inside may also need to supplement their D, as well as women who must wear long clothing and head coverings who do not expose their skin to the sun.
Others who benefit from supplemental vitamin D include people with certain chronic illnesses who do not absorb fat well, such as those with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, liver disease, and those who have had partial surgical removal of stomach or intestines. Those who suffer from lactose intolerance, overweight people, and infants who are breast-fed only will need to add D supplements. Breast milk has little to no vitamin D in it. The more body fat that one has, the more vitamin D is necessary to increase blood levels of the vitamin.
Is it Safe to Take Vitamin D?
When taken naturally in foods, vitamin D is safe and should be a part of a healthy diet. When taken in supplemental form, vitamin D can be toxic if too much is consumed. You doctor should be able to help you decide if you need supplements. Certain drugs such as steroids, laxatives, and anti-cholesterol drugs can lower the absorbability of vitamin D and should be taken at different times of the day. Always consult your healthcare provider if you are taking anti-seizure drugs or heart medications in combination with vitamin D.