Why You're Probably Not Getting the Vitamin D You Need
A mere decade ago, conventional medicine scoffed at the idea that vitamin D deficiency was a problem in the U.S. Forward-thinking doctors who suggested taking more than the amount included in a multivitamin were labeled quacks. “Experts” warned about the dangers of high doses of this essential vitamin, predicting dire results.
Today the tables have turned. Insufficient vitamin D intake has been tied to a score of health problems from heart disease to depression to cancer. Even Big Medicine can’t ignore the problem anymore. So if you think you get enough vitamin D just because you take a multivitamin or eat fortified foods, think again. You probably need considerably more than what you’re getting.
Understanding RDAs for vitamins and minerals
If you look at any supplement bottle, next to each vitamin or mineral you will see the “RDA” or Recommended Daily Allowance. Most people think that this is the optimal amount you need to consume in a day in order to be healthy. This impression is reinforced by dietary “experts.” There’s only one problem:
It’s just not true.
The RDAs are actually the amount of a vitamin or mineral a person needs to consume in order to prevent severe deficiency diseases like scurvy (from lack of vitamin C) or rickets (bone softening from lack of vitamin D). In reality, the RDA is the absolute minimum amount a person needs to not suffer from extreme deficiency. The optimal levels are often much, much higher.
How much vitamin D do you REALLY need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin D is 400 IU for infants, 800 IU for those over 70, and 600 IU for everyone else. However, as it’s become easier to test vitamin D levels, it’s become clear that this recommendation is far, far below optimal. The CDC itself reports that some 32% of people are vitamin D deficient. Other researchers suggest that as much as 50% of the general population is at risk for deficiency or insufficiency.
The optimal vitamin D intake recommendation is more in the range of 1000 to 5000 IU per day. The Endocrine Society suggests 1500-2000 IU per day for adults, while the Vitamin D Council recommends 5000 IU per day. Both agree that the upper “safe” limit is as high as 10,000 IU daily.
How do I get more vitamin D?
Vitamin D is often called “the sunshine vitamin.” Your body actually manufactures vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. This is probably one reason so many people are currently deficient. Not only do we spend much more time indoors than we used to as a society, the skin cancer hysteria has compelled many of us to cover every inch of exposed skin with sunscreen when we do go out of doors. This makes it nearly impossible for our bodies to utilize the sun exposure we do get.
The simplest way to get more vitamin D is to spend 15 minutes per day outside in the sun. To reap the full benefit of sunlight, you need to expose at least 30% of your skin to the sun’s rays. This means wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt, or even going shirtless if you’re a man.
If you’re unable to do this—in the winter for instance—vitamin D supplements are also available. Vitamin D comes in two forms, D2 and D3. D3 is used more effectively by the body, so while both forms are acceptable, D3 is preferred. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and supplements are best taken with food, ideally food that contains some fat.
Who is most at risk?
As I said, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Body fat collects it and “traps” it, keeping it from doing its job in the body. If you’re overweight, you probably need more vitamin D than a thin person.
Darker skin needs more sun exposure to produce Vitamin D, so the darker your skin the more likely you are to be deficient.
If you live in Northern latitudes, your sun exposure may be less than ideal and you probably need more of this vitamin.
And if you’re 50 or older, you’re more likely to have a deficiency. Your skin has a more difficult time manufacturing vitamin D as you age, and your kidneys have to work harder to convert it to a form your body can use. So if you’re over 50, dark-skinned, or live in the north, you probably need to supplement more than most.
How do I know if I’m deficient?
Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in an incredible number of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. It’s even been linked to higher breast cancer risk. The only sure way to know if you’re deficient is to have your blood levels tested. However, there are some symptoms that may suggest you need more of this essential vitamin:
- Muscle weakness
- Chronic muscle or bone pain with no obvious cause
- Lower pain threshold
- Brittle bones
- High blood pressure
- Daytime sleepiness
If you think you might be low in vitamin D, you have several options.
- You can have your blood tested at a doctor’s office. If you choose this option, make sure you ask for a 25(OH)D test, since it’s the only one that will tell you if you’re actually getting enough vitamin D.
- You can also order an in-home test. The test involves a simple finger prick, and your test strip is sent off to a lab to be tested.
Finally, you can supplement without testing. The safe limit for vitamin D is extremely high. Even if your blood levels are within normal range, supplementing is unlikely to raise them anywhere near the upper “safe” range.
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