Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is essential to your health. It strengthens your immune system and helps prevent autoimmune diseases and cancer. It also regulates the absorption of minerals in your body, such as calcium and phosphorous. An adequate intake of Vitamin D and calcium in your diet combined with regular exercise will make your bones healthy and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also used to prevent and treat Rickets in children.
The sun is our best source of Vitamin D. People who don’t get enough sun—for example, people who live in northern countries or spend lots of time indoors—are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Interestingly, some people who live in sunny countries are also at risk because they tend to cover-up when outside or stay indoors to avoid excessive heat. The constant use of sunscreen can also increase the risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
How much sun exposure?
For skin health and cancer prevention, avoid excessive exposure to the sun. However, the sun is necessary. Sunshine on your your face, neck, arms and shoulders, for 15-20 minutes each day, may give you enough Vitamin D to keep you healthy, says Dr. David Katz.
The amount of sun exposure to prevent Vitamin D deficiency can vary from one person to another. It can vary according to age, skin type, geographical location, season and time of day. For example, older people have fewer skin receptors that convert sunlight to Vitamin D and may need supplements. Also, dark-skinned people may need longer sun exposure to obtain adequate amounts of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements
Along with routine sun exposure, if you eat foods that are fortified or naturally rich in Vitamin D, then you might not need a Vitamin D supplement. However, as Dr. Katz points out, even if you eat the right foods and you try to get routine sun exposure in the winter months, you might have to supplement, especially if you live in a northern country.
For supplements, some health experts recommend 1000 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D a day. Some people may need 2000 IU or more a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends the following daily doses:
- 0-12 months: 400 IU
- 1-70 years of age: 600 IU
- 71 years and older: 800 IU
- Pregnant and lactating women: 600 IU
For better absorption, experts recommend Vitamin D3 supplements with cholecalciferol. If you think you need a Vitamin D supplement, talk to your health care professional. Blood test results can help determine a dosage that is right for you.
Foods rich in Vitamin D
You can get Vitamin D in fortified foods and beverages such as dairy products, tofu, soymilk, fruit juices and dry cereals. Check the nutritional information on the containers. Eggs, seafood and fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are also excellent sources of Vitamin D. Shiitake and button mushrooms, particularly mushrooms that have been sundried, also have high Vitamin D content.
For more information on Vitamin D, read here.