I’m not a huge advocate for supplements because I believe that food sources are almost always better when it comes to getting the nutrients you need. However, there are two supplements that I take regularly (Vitamin D and Fish Oil), and would like to do a little spotlight on both of these.
Today, meet Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is one of four fat-soluble vitamins (the others are A, E, and K). It’s also known as the sunshine vitamin, because our bodies make vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight. About 15 minutes of direct sunlight per day are recommended for adequate blood levels. Vitamin D is also found in a few foods, such as fortified dairy products and cereals, fatty fish, and egg yolks (Just one more reason why you should eat the WHOLE EGG), although the levels are often small enough to warrant supplementation in most people.
Herein lies the problem. A few problems actually:
- Fat Soluble means that the body needs fat in order to absorb this nutrient. If you’re drinking fortified Skim milk, guess what? You’re not getting the Vitamin D you think you are.
- Sunshine is not readily available to all of us. Most people in the northeast are Vitamin D deficient, especially during the winter months. Heck, I’m lucky if I ever see sunlight during the winter due to my work schedule, and when I do, I’m fully covered from head to toe because of the cold temperatures. Guess what that means? You got it: No Vitamin D for me!
- Geography is not everything. Even if you live in sunny Florida or California, it does not mean that you are getting enough of the good stuff. Pale people are more likely to be deficient, most likely due to the fact that they are overly careful about sun exposure. Along the same token, studies have suggested that upwards of 80% of African Americans are deficient (higher levels of melanin in the skin lead to less UV rays being absorbed).
So what’s so great about Vitamin D anyway?
Basically, it’s a rock star as far as vitamins go. While the primary functions of Vitamin D in your body are to maintain blood concentrations of both calcium and phosphorous and to help maintain bone health, there are a host of other things that D helps with as well. This superstar vitamin has effects on the brain, muscles, pancreas, intestines, and immune and cardiovascular systems, to name a few.
What happens if you don’t have enough D?
All joking aside, being deficient in Vitamin D has actually been linked to several diseases and conditions, ranging from the relatively benign to the very serious. Due to its significant effect of Vitamin D on the immune system, deficiency has been thought to contribute to the rise in influenza virus during the winter months, and it has also been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. More commonly, deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, osteoporosis or other bone and skin conditions. In the Framingham Heart Study which I have talked about before, patients with a low Vitamin D concentration were found to have a 60% higher risk of heart disease than those with higher concentrations.
These are just a few of many examples of the ways in which Vitamin D contributes to overall health, but they are more than enough to convince me that having adequate Vitamin D levels is not just recommended, it’s absolutely necessary.
So just how much do you need, anyway?
This is where it gets tricky. The IOM (Institute of Medicine) recently upped recommendations for Vitamin D from 400 IU/day to 600 IU/day for adults, however, many physicians still do not think that this is enough. I have read several articles suggesting that people who are at risk of deficiency should be taking between 1000 – 2000 IU/day. My own physician recommended 2000 IU/day for me during the winter months, and 1000 IU/day during the rest of the year.
However, there’s a caveat. (Isn’t there always when it comes to nutrition?)
I don’t believe that there can be one supplementation recommendation for everyone. Those who are at lower risk may not need as much as those of us who look like this for 5 months out of the year:
And although I’m all “Rah Rah Vitamin D”, before you go downing Vitamin D3 capsules like its your job, take some time to assess your risk factor, and ask your doctor if you have any questions about how much is best for YOU to take, as your needs very well may be far different than mine.
Because hey, if we were all the same, wouldn’t this world be just a wee bit boring?