Vitamin D Powers More than Bones

We know vitamin D plays a vital role in helping our bodies absorb calcium to build and rebuild bones, is important for everybody and particularly critical for growing children and aging adults facing the risk of osteoporosis. 

But this versatile nutrient fulfills many other functions to keep us healthy, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): 

  • It strengthens our muscles to prevent muscle pain, weakness and falls. 
  • It modulates the processes of cell division, neuromuscular function and the immune system. 
  • It reduces inflammation throughout the body. 

Our biggest natural source for vitamin D is outdoor sunlight, which triggers production of the nutrient when it strikes our skin. Exposure to sunlight from indoors does not help the body produce vitamin D because most windows filter out the UVB rays that trigger the action. 

There are only a handful of natural dietary sources for vitamin D, though some foods are routinely fortified with the vitamin. 

Am I Getting Enough? 

The NIH recommends people from ages 1 to 70 get 15 micrograms of vitamin D through their diets every day, going up to 20 for adults 71 and older.

The NIH says about 25% of Americans aren’t currently getting enough vitamin D. You’re more likely to be one of them if you live in a cold, cloudy climate (as Greater Prescott has during the winter) or have certain conditions that interfere with absorption of fat, including celiac disease. 

Everyone’s capacity to produce it from sun exposure is affected by aging, leaving seniors more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency. People who are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery may need more vitamin D. 

How do I get more of it? 

Increasing your sun exposure, when possible, is a good first step. Increasing dietary intake is also a good idea. 

Natural dietary sources of vitamin D include: 

  • Fatty fish — It naturally contains the highest levels by far of vitamin D; trout can have up to 16.5 micrograms per 3-ounce serving, salmon up to 14.2 micrograms. 
  • Mushrooms — Provide varying amounts naturally, and some treated with UV light to increase their vitamin D content have up to 9 micrograms per serving.
  • Eggs — 1 large scrambled egg has 1.1 microgram.
  • Light canned tuna, packed in water — 1 microgram per 3-ounce serving.
  • New research suggests animal-based food products may have a higher effect on vitamin D production than their levels would indicate, because they also contain the serum produced by vitamin D exposure. 

Fortified food sources include: 

  • Milk — About 3 micrograms of vitamin D is added to almost all the U.S. dairy milk supply.  
  • Infant formula produced in the U.S. is required to contain 1 to 2.5 micrograms of vitamin D.
  • Plant-based milks — Many have similar added amounts to dairy milk. 
  • Ready-to-eat cereals.
  •  Orange juice.
  •  Yogurt. 
  • Margarine.
  • Tofu. 

Should I take a supplement?

The NIH recommends Americans consider taking vitamin D supplements if they aren’t getting enough through other sources, but to remember that excessive amounts (about 100 micrograms per day) has harmful health effects.