Stories focused on rampant vitamin D deficiency have captured headlines for the last few years.
This prompted many studies that have linked negative health effects to low levels of the “sunshine vitamin.” More recently however, other research has shown that overconsumption of the vitamin can cause serious complications. So what should you believe?
Benefits of vitamin D
To begin, vitamin D forms in the body when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun; insufficient amounts of the vitamin can cause brittle or misshapen bones and other health problems, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In addition to strengthening bones, vitamin D has been hailed for its ability to fight disease, reduce depression, boost weight loss and provide other health benefits. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between vitamin D and a reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis. And a 2008 study determined that low levels of vitamin D might increase the chances of some form of cardiovascular disease.
Research also indicates that the sunshine vitamin offers some protection against the flu and another study shows that lack of vitamin D puts a person at an elevated risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
But detecting vitamin D deficiency is not an easy task. Some of its symptoms, which include fatigue, aches and pains, general malaise, bone or muscle weakness, and stress fractures, can mimic other conditions. A blood test, which your physician orders, can identify your vitamin D levels.
One of the best and most natural ways to increase vitamin D levels is from exposure to the sun, according to the Vitamin D Council. Depending on geographic location, this approach can be tricky. The amount of sunshine varies from state to state. Besides, excessive sun worship carries its own risks.
Getting enough vitamin D
While obtaining vitamin D through diet is possible, it can be challenging, according to Taylor Jones, RD. However, there are some edible sources that can help elevate levels. She cites a number of treasures from the sea, including salmon, herring, sardines, canned tuna, oysters and shrimp, which contain varying amounts of vitamin D. Cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods – think cereals, juice, and milk – can also help boost vitamin D levels.
If a dietary approach is not sufficient to increase levels, the Vitamin D Council points out that the second best way to boost your vitamin D intake is through supplementation. Vitamin D3, which is the type your body makes, is the most recommended type.
Depending on which organization you consult, recommendations for appropriate dosage vary. In 2010, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued guidelines regarding vitamin D dosage. For most individuals, the organization recommends 600 IU (international units) daily; men and women over the age of 70 should bump up the dosage to 800 IU. The Vitamin D Council suggests higher amounts, between 1,000 and 5,000 IU daily.
The Mayo Clinic reports that vitamin D dosage will vary when prescribed for certain conditions.
Although vitamin D is an essential vitamin, taking too much can be risky. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s stored in body fat and can build up in the body.
The Mayo Clinic warns that some adverse reactions may occur in individuals with allergies or sensitivities. Those with skin sensitivities might experience rashes or irritation. Other risks include calcium build up, cholesterol level changes, daytime sleepiness, and headaches. Some individuals may also be prone to falls and fractures, heart attack, stroke, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, muscle pain, respiratory tract infections, or stomach issues if Vitamin D levels climb too high.
The Vitamin D Council emphasizes that the sunshine vitamin plays a role in keeping a person healthy and strong, so grab a reasonable amount of rays whenever possible. When supplementation is necessary, be sure to follow recommended guidelines and your physician’s advice. Your body will thank you.