We've known for a long time that adequate levels of vitamin D in the body prevents rickets and helps with proper bone development and maintenance. More research is needed, but here's what we know so far about the health benefits of vitamin D:
Vitamin D works in tandem with calcium to help build strong bones in children and help keep them strong as we age. That's why it's an important nutrient in the fight against osteoporosis.
Sunlight is best
The best way to ensure that your vitamin D levels are adequate is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight. Just 20 minutes in the mid-day sun, sans sunscreen, increases our vitamin D levels significantly. (However, be sure to use common sense and avoid getting burned.) But if we spend too much time indoors, or we live where winters are too cold to go outside wearing tank tops and shorts, we can be deficient.
Fortified food is good
Another way to boost your vitamin D intake is by eating foods that are fortified with it; but it can be difficult to get as much as you need from food only. Milk, yogurt, cereal and orange juice are the most commonly fortified foods, which means vitamin D was added during the manufacturing process. Fatty wild fish (like salmon), fish liver oils, egg yolks and mushrooms are natural sources.
Current science suggests that most of us need to take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D3, (cholecalciferol), the active form of vitamin D, is the recommended version, rather than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), which may not raise levels as effectively as D3. But remember: it's a good idea, before starting any supplementation regimen, to read labels and check with your doctor.
Test your levels
The only way to know for sure if you're getting enough vitamin D is to get tested. A simple blood test, ordered by almost any M.D., can tell you how much vitamin D is circulating in your blood stream. Then you can make an informed decision about how much, if any, you need to supplement.
It seems almost every week, another new study about vitamin D is being discussed by researchers, physicians and the medical press. So make an effort to stay up-to-date about the benefits of this very important nutrient.
Jill Grunewald is a Holistic Nutrition Coach and health writer. If there’s a vitamin that’s been getting the lion’s share of press lately, it’s vitamin D.