Why Do You Need Vitamin D?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When talking about sun protection, the topic of Vitamin D often comes up. Your body manufactures Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Some people believe that it is important to get some sun exposure on a daily or regular basis to increase levels of the vitamin in your body. Many others believe that it is better to protect your skin from skin cancer and get the nutrient from a combination of foods and supplements.


    Vitamin D is essential to maintaining strong bones. Without it, your body cannot absorb enough calcium. This can lead to soft bones, thin or brittle bones, called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. While this is the most commonly known result of Vitamin D, it isn’t the only way your body uses this nutrient. Another bone disorder, osteoporosis, can occur after long-term deficiencies of Vitamin D. With osteoporosis, bones become fragile and can fracture easily.

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    Researchers have also been looking at other diseases and how they might relate to deficiencies in this nutrient. Some studies have shown connection to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and multiple sclerosis. Scientists also think that Vitamin D might help protect you against colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer. However, researchers have also found some evidence that high levels of Vitamin D could contribute to pancreatic cancer. These studies are not definitive and the link between the nutrient and cancer is still being examined.

    Other studies have looked at a possible link between low levels of Vitamin D and heart condition. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2008, showed that people with low levels of Vitamin D had double the chance of dying of heart disease.


    Adequate levels of Vitamin D might also protect against depression, insomnia and auto immune diseases.


    How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?


    Most people need 600 IU per day. Young children, younger than 12 months old only need 400 IU and those older than 70 years old require 800 IU each day according to the Food and Nutrition Board, a national group of experts.   


    Being in direct sunlight, with your legs and arms uncovered, for about 10 minutes during the summer months (midday) can give your body up to 10,000 IU of Vitamin D. This is why some experts believe you should spend a short amount of time in the sun each day. Other experts believe that this isn’t necessary and food and supplements can provide adequate levels of Vitamin D without increasing the risk of developing skin cancer.


    Foods with Vitamin D


    Because there are not many foods that contain Vitamin D, some are fortified with the nutrient. Your body doesn’t know the difference between foods that naturally contain Vitamin D or those that are fortified. Foods that have Vitamin D include:

    • Salmon and Mackerel
    • Mushrooms
    • Canned tuna in water
    • Canned sardines in oil
    • Milk, yogurt and cheese
    • Beef or calf liver
    • Egg yolks
    • Some brands of orange juice are fortified with Vitamin D
    • Some breakfast cereals are fortified with Vitamin D

    There are many supplements on the market for Vitamin D.


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    Who Is Most at Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?


    In general, people who are dark skinned usually have lower levels of Vitamin D because their skin has less ability to produce Vitamin D from the sun. Women usually have lower levels than men and older people have lower levels than younger children.


    Certain diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, can prevent your body from producing enough Vitamin D. Those with kidney disease may also not produce enough of the nutrient.


    The only way to know if you are Vitamin D deficient is through a blood test.




    “Time in the Sun: How Much Is Needed for Vitamin D?” 2008, June 23, Deborah Kotz, US News and World Report


    “Vitamin D,” Reviewed 2011, June 24, Staff Writer, National Institutes of Health


    “Vitamin D and Your Health: Breaking Old Rules, Raising New Hopes,” 2007, February, Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch

Published On: July 15, 2014