Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. Are you getting the amount you need?
For years, the media have trumpeted the role of calcium in preventing osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones weak and prone to fracture. The calcium clamor sometimes drowns out messages about another vital nutrient: vitamin D.
Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption. Without enough vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium and deposit it in the bones. As a result, the blood must raid the skeleton for the calcium it needs. This raises the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Vitamin D doesn’t just strengthen bones. It also benefits muscles and helps to improve strength and balance in older persons.
How much is enough?
The daily amount of vitamin D experts recommend for healthy people is:
- 600 IU (international units) for ages 1 to 70 years
- 800 IU for ages 71 and older
If you are concerned about your vitamin D status, talk to your doctor. A simple blood test can show if you are deficient.
The sunshine factor
The human body makes its own vitamin D when ultraviolet-B (UV-B) rays from the sun interact with a chemical in the skin. But sun exposure is not a reliable or recommended way to get vitamin D. There are two main reasons for this:
- Sunscreen blocks UV rays needed to make vitamin D. Wearing sunscreen is strongly recommended to help prevent skin cancer.
- There is no set amount of sun exposure that will produce enough vitamin D to meet everyone’s needs. Some factors are known to affect the skin’s ability to make vitamin D. These include aging and dark skin color. But this ability also seems to vary from person to person for reasons that aren’t understood.
This makes dietary sources and supplements of vitamin D even more important.
Getting the D you need
The best way to get vitamin D is through food and supplements.
Few foods contain vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as salmon, is the richest food source. But most Americans get vitamin D from fortified milk and dairy products. Food sources include:
- Fortified milk (100 IU/cup)
- Fortified yogurt (80 IU/cup)
- Fortified breakfast cereals (40 IU/serving)
- Egg yolk (25 IU/yolk)
- Fortified orange juice (100 IU/cup)
- Salmon (750 IU/3 ounces)
- Mackerel (380 IU/3 ounces)
- Tuna (150 IU/3 ounces)
Some breakfast and nutrition bars and drinks provide 100 to 140 IU of vitamin D per serving.
Some people need vitamin D supplements to meet their daily need. Supplement choices include vitamin D alone, multivitamins, and calcium with added vitamin D.
Be aware, though, that too much vitamin D can cause side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and constipation.