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We often think of vitamin D and its role in bones. But it is important in all tissues and cells. So it follows that vitamin D deficiency effects all tissues and cells, not just bones. If we increased our intake, could many cases of cancer, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, or autoimmune diseases be prevented? New research shows this is possible.

Who is effected?

Many researches believe there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. So everyone should be aware of their intake and blood levels. But some groups are more likely to be effected. These include people who have fat malabsportion or inflammatory bowel disease, the elderly, those with dark skin, those with obesity, and infants that are exclusively breast-fed.

 

How much do we need? Don’t we get enough form the sun?

Vitamin D is often called Vitamin Sunshine. Our bodies make vitamin D when we are outside on a sunny day. But many of us spend precious little time outdoors. And when we do, northern latitudes, smog, sunscreen and clothes J limit the amount of sun exposure we get.

 

The current recommendations are 400-600 IU, depending on your age. This could come from food or supplements. But there is mounting science recommending 1,000 IU per day for adults. Some say 2,000 IU is better, again for adults.

 

Natural food sources

The only foods that naturally contain significant amounts of Vitamin D are oily fish. These include herring, catfish, salmon (wild has more vitamin D than farmed), mackerel, sardines, tuna and eel. Cod liver oil is especially rich in vitamin D, but it tastes awful.

 

are surprising in that they develop vitamin D when exposed to light, just like we do! They are the only fruit or vegetable with natural vitamin D. Simply remove the wrapper and place in sunlight for 5 minutes. A serving of 4-5 button mushrooms goes from 15 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D.

 

 

Fortified food sources

Milk has been fortified with vitamin D since the 1930’s, and the bone disease rickets has largely disappeared here. Americans get most of their vitamin D from fortified fluid milk. Skim, reduced fat and whole milk all have added vitamin D, 100 IU per 8 ounces. You need to drink four 8 oz glasses a day to meet the current recommendation of 400 IU per day.

 

This is often problematic for many since lactose intolerance often goes hand in hand with gluten intolerance. Lactose free milk is available, it is a bit sweeter than regular milk. I like it on cereal because it sweetens my breakfast a bit without adding sugar. Yogurt and cheese are often recommended as low lactose dairy sources. They can provide you with calcium, but not vitamin D. It is not usually added to these products.

 

Theoretically, you could meet your vitamin D needs with a steady diet of wild salmon, milk and mushrooms. Am I kidding? Yes. It could make a lovely meal, but I wouldn’t want to eat it everyday.

 

 

photo by lsimon

So supplements are needed. And some people will need higher doses than others.

 

 

 

Are you vitamin D deficient?

Ask your doctor for a blood test to measure your vitamin D levels. Be sure to ask for the total 25(OH)D test. This is also called “25 hydroxyvitamin D”. Other vitamin D tests aren’t as accurate for determining deficiency.

 

If you are deficient, start with a D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement. It is the most active form of vitamin D. And it is readily available. Rechecking the blood test in a few months will show if your dose is adequate.

 

Or visit Grass Roots Health and their D Action research project. They are a group of scientists, institutions and individuals committed to solving Vitamin D deficiency and improving health. D Action offers in-home blood testing, for a reasonable fee. They recommend 25(OH)D blood levels between 40 and 60 ng/ml. Some prominent researchers believe the blood level should be higher yet for optimum health. You could even contribute to their ongoing 5-year project researching vitamin D levels and disease risk.

 

Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute also has a very useful webpage covering on all things vitamin D, with links to research papers.

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