“An estimated 50 percent of Americans now have a vitamin D deficiency,” according to Michael F. Holick, MD, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine.
It’s no wonder that vitamin D, a nutrient your body produces when exposed to sunlight, is hard to come by in winter months. Your body and bones need a healthy helping of vitamin D to absorb calcium from food and stay strong. Without it, you are susceptible to a multitude of illnesses ranging from osteomalacia (bone and muscle weakness) to heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes in extreme cases. Lack of vitamin D has also been associated with depression and fatigue.
A new study from University College London recognized a correlation between depression and low vitamin D levels in a middle-aged sample. Results published in Clinical Nutrition indicated that people with higher vitamin D levels had lower risks of depression and panic.
How much do you need?
For adults 19-50 years old, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 400 International Units (IU), while the RDA for people aged 71 and older is 600 IU, but many experts suggest getting more. Dr. Susan Haden, MD, an endocrinologist at the Fish Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, advises her patients to take anywhere from 800 to 1,200 IUs per day. According to the Institute of Medicine, getting too much vitamin D (above 4,000 IU per day) can be harmful.
You may have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:
- -Are age 50 or older
- -Have dark skin
- -Live in the North
- -Are overweight, obese, or have had gastric bypass surgery
- -Have a milk allergy or intolerance
- -Have liver or digestive diseases, like Crohn’s or celiac
Where and how can you get it?
Milk and Fish. Start at breakfast! Most types of milk are fortified with vitamin D, as are some soy milks. Orange juice, cereal and some yogurt brands also commonly have added vitamin D – you can check the labels to see. Small amounts are found in egg yolk and beef liver, but your best bet is fish. Salmon, swordfish and mackerel can provide a healthy amount of vitamin D in just one serving. Other fatty fish like tuna and sardines also have some D, but in lower amounts.
Reliv Products. There are two kinds of vitamin D in supplements: D2 (ergocalciferol – the type found in food) and D3 (cholecalciferol – the type made from sunlight). The easy solution to getting enough D3 is one serving of Reliv Now or Classic, which has 400 IUs, 100% of the RDA, or Slimplicity, which has 200 IUs, which is 50% of the RDA.
Spend Time Outside. Even in the winter months, the sun shines and you can benefit from a daily 10-minute walk.
Make the most of your wintertime sun exposure by:
- -Letting as much skin show as you comfortably can (not enough to risk catching a cold, which would defeat the purpose)
- -Aiming for “solar noon” – the time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and its rays are most direct. Consult this solar calculator to let you know when to head outside
- -Using your skin as a cue – when it starts to turn pink, you’ve gotten enough UV exposure