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The 3 sources of vitamin D

Last Modified: January 12, 2016

Family Medicine

compendium_600x400_vitamind_sun_1_16.jpg PreviewWhen you were a kid, do you remember your parents telling you to go outside and play? This wasn’t just to get us up and active; the sun also provides an essential vitamin. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is an important part of our daily lives. “It helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorous,” Kathy Wehrle, RDN, community outreach dietitian, said, “which are necessary for bone growth and development. It is great for your immune system and disease resistance, it helps your body’s cells grow and develop, and it’s important for proper cardiovascular and muscle function.”

So how much vitamin D do we need? Measured in IU’s (International Units), vitamin D recommendations vary by life stage, and are currently as follows:

  Life Stage

  Vitamin D (IU/day)

  Birth to 12 months

  400 IU

  Children 1 to13 years

  600 IU

  Teens 14 to 18 years

  600 IU

  Adults 19 to 70 years

  600 IU

  Adults >71 years

  800 IU

  Pregnant and breastfeeding women

  600 IU

As we age, our body’s ability to absorb vitamin D lowers and our suggested intake increases. Finding an effective dosage is essential because, “with proper amounts of vitamin D, you can prevent osteoporosis, some cancers, autoimmune diseases and hypertension.” Kathy said.  

We get vitamin D from 3 sources: food, sunlight and supplements. The main and most common source is sunlight. While very few food products naturally contain vitamin D, some options would be fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel), liver, egg yolk and some dairy products. Dairy products, cereals, breads, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and orange juice are sometimes fortified with vitamin D (check the nutrient label for vitamin D content).

compendium_600x400_vitamind_sources_1_16.jpg Preview

Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common worldwide. Some populations are at a higher risk of deficiency than others, including:

  • Nursed infants born in winter months
  • Those with poor sun exposure
  • Elderly
  • Strict vegetarians (especially children)
  • Those with darker skin
  • Those with liver, kidney, GI disorders
  • Excessive use of alcohol

“The best way to know if you have a vitamin D deficiency is to get checked,” Kathy offers.  “Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to tell you if you need more vitamin D. This test measures the amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in your blood. Blood levels below 12 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) indicate poor levels of vitamin D. Levels between 20 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL are considered adequate for healthy individuals.” It’s best to get this test when you are younger, while your bones are still growing. Spotting a deficiency and correcting it can help you prevent poor bone growth and other preventable diseases. Your doctor may recommend a supplement if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Research shows you can safely take up to 2,000 IUs a day in supplements, but always check with your doctor first. Look for a supplement 

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