You may be reading this from a beach chair as you soak up the last golden rays of the season. It may not be a pleasant thought but the darker days of fall and winter are upon us. So here’s something you might want to add to your shopping list: vitamin D supplements.
You’ve probably heard that low levels of vitamin D contribute to some serious medical conditions such as osteoporosis, cognitive impairment, coronary disease, multiple sclerosis, certain cancers and a number of other ailments.
Granted the research does not identify a causal relationship between vitamin D deficiency and disease, merely an association. But the findings do underscore how important the vitamin is to our overall health.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, which is needed to build strong bones. Vitamin D also supports our immunity which may be why the lack of it is associated with cancer.
So how much vitamin D do we need? Enough to maintain optimal levels in your blood and for most people that’s anywhere from 400 to 2,000 IU (international units) per day, says Dr. M. James Lenhard, chief of endocrinology at Christiana Care Health System and director of its Centers for Diabetes & Metabolic Diseases and Weight Management.
Sun exposure is the most inexpensive and natural way to get your vitamin D. But current studies show that roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population is deficient due to limited sun exposure, use of sunscreens, aging, obesity (Vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in adipose tissue) and living at or more than 40 degrees north of the equator (Delaware altitude is 39 degrees north).
Because adequate sun exposure is tough to come by for roughly half the year, we need to rely on foods that contain vitamin D and/or take supplements to maintain the recommended levels. Good sources include fatty fish, beef liver, eggs and fortified foods like dairy, orange juice, soy or almond milk, mushrooms and cereals.
But estimating how much vitamin D you’re actually getting from food can be tricky, says Lenhard. Indeed, the average intake of vitamin D from food alone was less than 240 IU per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, taking a vitamin D supplement is strongly recommended.
Vitamin D supplements come in two forms: D2, which is made from plants and fungus and D3, which is made from fish oil or lanolin. D3 is said to have three times the potency of D2 but research has yet to confirm this.
“The jury is still out on that,” Lenhard says, “but in my opinion, the studies that have been done say it doesn’t much matter how you get (vitamin D) as long as you do.”