Are you getting enough vitamin D?
One minute you’re told to lather on the sunscreen and stay out of the sun. The next you’re told to expose your skin to sunlight in order to get vitamin D. What do you do? Find a happy medium. After all, vitamin D is an essential vitamin that’s found in small amounts in just a few foods. The rest of the vitamin D you have access to is produced by your body when you spend time in the sun.
Why do you need vitamin D and what happens when you don’t get enough? You’re about to find out.
The Role of Vitamin D
Multiple body systems and organs require vitamin D for proper functioning. Vitamin D supports the health and function of the skeletal system, immune system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and brain. It works to prevent cancer, infection, and disease, and helps regulate insulin levels. But wait—there’s more! Without vitamin D, your body has a hard time absorbing the calcium it needs for strong bones and teeth. This is one reason why milk is usually fortified with vitamin D.
Signs of Deficiency
Without enough vitamin D, kids are at risk for rickets, a disease that causes bow-legged legs and soft bones. In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to soft bones and low bone density, which results in brittle bones that are more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
A lack of vitamin D is also linked to greater chances of developing numerous types of health conditions including frequent colds and flu, high blood pressure, autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, various cancers, heart disease, severe asthma, muscle pain, hair loss, and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies are ongoing to find the link between vitamin D and these diseases, but the connection seems clear at the moment.
How to Get Enough
So should you wear sunscreen every time you go outdoors or not? Wearing sunscreen prevents vitamin D absorption by up to 95 percent, so you may not want to lather up every time your skin sees the light of day. The good news is that you don’t have to get sunburn in order to soak up vitamin D. If you have fair skin, all you need is 5 to 10 minutes of sunlight exposure a few days a week. People with darker skin and older folks may require more time than that since their skin doesn’t produce as much vitamin D.
If you have a job that prevents you from being outdoors, if you live far from the equator or in a location that’s frequently cloudy, or if you have darker skin, you may need to rely on foods and supplements for your daily requirement of vitamin D.
Fish is one of the few foods that naturally contains vitamin D. Salmon, mackerel, and swordfish are the best food sources, but tuna, sardines, eggs, and beef liver provide a small amount. Milk, cereal, and some yogurts, breads, and orange juices are often fortified with vitamin D to help ensure you get enough.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 600 international units for adults and 800 IU for adults over the age of 70. If you’re unable to get this amount from your diet, you may want to consider taking a supplement. While not ideal, supplements can provide the type of vitamin D found in food or the kind you get from sunlight.