Vitamin D is a hot topic issue these days so naturally, the recommendations for achieving healthy levels are constantly being tweaked. But first, what does it do? Vitamin D signals the intestines to absorb calcium from foods and to regulate its uptake by bone cells. Although our bodies can reach ideal levels of vitamin D with exposure to sunlight, many skin-cancer-fearing Americans are shunning the sun and ultimately missing out on valuable vitamin D absorption opportunities. If you're a shade-seeker as well, you might be vitamin D deficient.
When you ask people how to strengthen bones, the most common response is “calcium”. Today though, we know that while calcium is an important component in preventing osteoporosis, vitamin D plays a crucial role as well. In a 2007 study, calcium supplements alone did not lower the risk of fractures in older adults. When calcium was combined with vitamin D, however, the risk of fracture significantly decreased. So how much vitamin D do we really need? 400-600 IU per day is typically advised for teens and younger adults, while older adults should aim for 800-1000 units of vitamin D. Currently, about 70% of older men and women fail to meet that.
* One in four men and one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis
* Osteoporosis caused more than 2 million fractures in 2005
* Six months after a hip fracture, only 15% of patients can walk across a room without help
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find adequate vitamin D in foods. A cup of milk, for example, is fortified with about 100 IU while a tablespoon of fortified margarine offers only 60 IU. At that rate, reaching the benchmark of 800 IU per day becomes quite a challenge. Supplements seem to be the best way to safely and efficiently reach the ideal level of vitamin D in the blood stream, but some research points out risks involved with too much of the vitamin. Although a vitamin D overdose is unlikely, regular intake of supplemental vitamin D far above the recommended values might lead to nausea, kidney stones, heart rhythm abnormalities and other undesirable side effects.
The bottom line: Spend some time in sunshine to absorb vitamin D the natural way. If sun exposure is a serious concern, shoot for 800 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium per day from foods and supplements to achieve maximum bone health.