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Vitamin D: What's Your Status?

January 4, 2014 by Melanie Zook

If you’ve had your vitamin D levels checked lately, chances are, your results were low.  (Ideal levels are greater than 30 ng/mL, and closer to 40 ng/mL if pregnant.)  Recent research shows that many people worldwide are either vitamin D deficient or insufficient.  Why?  Vitamin D can be tough to get from food (since not many foods naturally contain vitamin D) and many of us don’t get enough unprotected sun exposure to make our own (we’re either stuck indoors or slathering on our SPF).

Some groups are at especially high risk of vitamin D deficiency; these include:

*Update: As of October 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated the following: “Maternal vitamin D supplementation with 6400 IU/day safely supplies breast milk with adequate vitamin D to satisfy her nursing infant’s requirement and offers an alternate strategy to direct infant supplementation.”

Vitamin D has always been known to work with calcium to sustain strong bones, but a slew of new research has come out in the past few years linking it to other diseases. The benefits include:

The best food sources include cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and shrimp. It can also be found in egg yolks, beef liver and certain mushrooms, and in fortified foods such as milk, plant “milks”, yogurt, cereals and orange juice.

There are two forms of Vitamin D to note: D2 (ergocalciferol), which is synthesized by plants and D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the form we synthesize from sun exposure.  The active form of vitamin D is known as calcitriol. New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the D3 form is more beneficial in raising vitamin D levels in the blood than D2.

In 2010 the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) increased their daily recommendations for vitamin D: 600 IUs/day for ages 1-70, 800 IUs/day for ages 71+, and 600 IUs/day for pregnant or lactating women. The IOM also increased the tolerable upper intake level (UL) from 2000 IUs to 4000 IUs.  However, other organizations, like the Vitamin D Council and the Endocrine Society recommend up to 10,000 IUs daily for adults, and higher levels than the IOM recommendations for infants and children as well.

I regularly check my vitamin D levels at the doctor and aim for about 3000 IU of supplemental vitamin D3 per day (1000 IU from my multivitamin + 1000 IU that’s included in my Nordic Naturals ProOmega-D fish oil omega-3 supplement + one Nordic Naturals 1000 IU vitamin D3 soft gel).  See below for links.

If you’re finding it difficult to fit enough vitamin D rich foods into your diet, consider taking a supplement of at least 1000 IUs daily of the D3 form.

[Order any of these directly from me OR order online from Fullscript.  Get 15% off + free shipping either way!]

You can also take advantage of getting outside more often, but you don’t need to burn your skin or stay outside for long periods of time to reap the benefits.  The Vitamin D Council recommends exposing your skin for about half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn, which could be around 15 minutes if you’re fair skinned, or longer for dark skin types.  (While sunburn is a risk from too much unprotected sun exposure, vitamin D toxicity from natural production from sun exposure is NOT a risk.)

Get your vitamin D level checked at your next physical exam, and for ideal vitamin D status, pay attention to your food sources of vitamin D as well as your safe sun exposure.

Research assistance provided by Judi Giordano, an aspiring dietitian and culinary graduate.