Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Food & Recipes

Select An Article
Font Size

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that promises great health benefits, yet most adults fall short.
By
WebMD Expert Column

Vitamin D is a star nutrient these days, as research links it to numerous health benefits. Studies suggest vitamin D may go beyond its well-established role in bone health and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and more.

What makes vitamin D unique is that it is a vitamin and also a hormone your body can make from the sun. Despite the ability to get vitamin D from food and the sun, an estimated 40%-75% of people are deficient.

Why? Vitamin D is not abundant in our food choices and the sun is not a reliable source for everyone.

Many factors affect the skin's ability to produce vitamin D, including season, time of day, latitude, air pollution, cloud cover, sunscreen, body parts exposed, color, and age. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen and getting vitamin D from food and supplements rather than risk the harmful rays of the sun.

Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally present in few foods. Since 1930, virtually all cow's milk in the U.S. has been voluntarily fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per cup. Food manufacturers are fortifying other foods, such as yogurt, cereal, and orange juice, to help consumers fill the nutrient gap in their diets.

Ideally, vitamin D is added to a food or beverage that contains calcium. Vitamin D is needed for maximum absorption of calcium from the intestine, helping to build strong bones and teeth.

Together with calcium, vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis in older adults. Without enough vitamin D, bones can become brittle and prone to fracture. It is estimated that more than 40 million adults in the U.S. have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.

"Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low bone mass and osteoporosis, which is estimated to affect 10 million adults over the age of 50 in the U.S.," says Atlanta rheumatologist Eduardo Baetti, MD. Even in Atlanta, where the sunshine is adequate all year long, Baetti says many of his patients -- especially elderly and dark-skinned people -- have low levels of vitamin D because the sun is not a reliable source.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

Bone health was the single focus of the Institute of Medicine's recommendations on how much vitamin D and calcium people should get.

The recommendations for adults up to age 69 rose to 600 IU/day, and to 800 IU/day for adults starting at age 70. Older adults need more vitamin D because as they age, their skin does not produce vitamin D efficiently, they spend less time outdoors, and they tend to not get enough vitamin D.

The committee did not consider the emerging research on any other conditions. Patsy Brannon, PhD, RD, a Cornell University professor of nutritional sciences and a member of the IOM committee, spoke about that at the American Dietetic Association's 2011 annual meeting in San Diego. "The committee of 14 scientists reviewed more than 1,000 publications and determined that the evidence was inconsistent and inconclusive to include any other health benefits in the new recommendations," Brannon said. "The committee is not dismissing the role of vitamin D in other areas, we need more clinical trials, consistent evidence, and evidence that supports causality."

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Four spoons with mustards
What condiments are made of and how much to use.
salmon and spinach
How to get what you need.
 
grilled veggies
Easy ideas for dinner tonight.
Greek Salad
Health benefits, what you can eat and more.
 

WebMD Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.



bread
Recipes
soup
Recipes
 
roasted chicken
Recipes
Flaxseed added fiber
Video
 
vegetarian sandwich
Recipes
fresh vegetables
Recipes
 
smoothie
fitArticle
Foods To Boost Mens Heath Slideshow
Slideshow