What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a nutrient that our bodies make by processing UVB rays from sunlight, and is important for maintaining strong bones and teeth, because it allows our bodies to absorb calcium and other minerals that maintain bone structure. Although it is most commonly associated with bone strength and structure, Vitamin D has a host of functions that help keep many parts of the body healthy. It also helps strengthen the immune system, and generally improves functions within the body.
Vitamin D is found in small amounts in some foods, but you cannot fulfill your Vitamin D needs from food alone, and many people do not get enough Vitamin D from the sun. This combination has made Vitamin D deficiency very common.
How much Vitamin D should I be getting every day?
People between the ages of 9 and 71 should be getting at least 600 IU of Vitamin D every day, and can safely take up to 4000 IU of Vitamin D per day. The upper limit refers only to supplements; it is impossible to get too much Vitamin D from the sun.
How can Vitamin D deficiency affect my health?
As women, we suffer the most from the effects of Vitamin D deficiencies because we are predisposed to naturally smaller and more fragile bones than men, due to our average smaller size. Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk for osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones weaken and become more prone to breaks. People with severe Vitamin D deficiencies may see symptoms of osteoporosis at a younger age.
Vitamin D intake is also linked to lower cancer risk, and has been shown in particular to prevent breast and ovarian cancers in women. Especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, increasing your Vitamin D intake is a good preventative measure.
How do I know if I need to take Vitamin D supplements?
The only way to know for sure if you are deficient in Vitamin D is to take a blood test at your doctor’s office. However, there are many factors that can predict whether or not you get enough Vitamin D in your daily life. Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency can range from fatigue and achiness, to frequent breaks and infections. Before these symptoms appear, however, it is possible to predict whether or not you should be taking Vitamin D supplements.
1. You work indoors.
Indoor work is the most common reason for Vitamin D deficiency. When we work indoors, we often do not get enough exposure to the sun during its peak hours. This means that even if we feel that we are getting enough sun, by the time we get out its rays may already have weakened, and our bodies will be less able to produce Vitamin D from them.
2. You always wear sunscreen when you go outside.
Everyone should wear sunscreen, but over-wearing it can increase the risk of Vitamin D deficiency because the UVB rays that allow our bodies to produce Vitamin D cannot easily penetrate through a level of sunscreen. Make sure that you get at least 45 minutes a week of exposure to sunlight without sunscreen to build up natural Vitamin D, and consider taking supplements if you can’t get the right type of sunlight when you’re out.
3. You live in northern regions.
People living in seasonal regions, like New York, are more likely to have Vitamin D deficiencies than those living in more tropical regions, like Los Angeles, because of the angle at which the sun hits the earth. In the summer, this difference is less pronounced, but in the winter the suns rays are weaker. Plus, heavy winter clothing prevents us from getting adequate exposure to the sun, meaning that increasing your Vitamin D intake may be especially important during the winter months.
4. You are dark-skinned.
People who are dark-skinned need more sunlight to produce Vitamin D than do people with fairer skin. This means that black people are far more likely to become deficient in Vitamin D than white people, and may need larger supplements, particularly if they fit other criteria on this list.
5. You are pregnant.
When you are pregnant, you need to get enough Vitamin D for both you and your baby, which means that your reserves run out faster. You are at a higher risk of becoming Vitamin D deficient and your baby has a higher risk of being born with a deficiency. Additionally, because your body is producing bone matter so quickly in the baby, Vitamin D is essential to making sure that the baby’s skeletal structure is normal. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can also increase the risk of your baby having a low birth weight, as well as putting you at increased risk for pregnancy complications.
6. You are overweight or obese.
People with higher body mass indexes need higher levels of Vitamin D than thinner people in order to get nutrients to all of their tissue, and are therefore at higher risk of becoming Vitamin D deficient.
It is recommended that adults who fit one or more of these criteria take daily supplements of 1000 to 2000 IU of Vitamin D every day.
Where can I get Vitamin D supplements?
Vitamin D3 supplements can be found at nearly any pharmacy or drugstore. The most common dosage is 2000 IU, but supplements can range from 1000 to 4000 IU. Talk to your doctor about how high your dose should be if you feel that you need a large supplement.
Although many of us have Vitamin D deficiencies, they are easy to treat when caught early. Supplements are common and inexpensive, and the pills are small and easy to take. Plus, needing to catch up on your Vitamin D is a great excuse to ditch the sunscreen for a few minutes (but not too long) and just enjoy the sun!