The Sunshine Vitamin: Get Your Vitamin D

The Sunshine Vitamin: Get Your Vitamin D

Let the sun shine in! Experts say women aren’t getting enough vitamin D, an essential vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium and has been shown to decrease the risk of some diseases.

By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

More and more studies are showing how important vitamin D is to women’s health — and that many women aren’t getting enough of this essential vitamin.

Though you can up your levels through both your diet and supplements, soaking up a little sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D. But we’re also told to limit our time in the sun because of the damage it can do to our skin — so what gives? You can get your daily dose of vitamin D and protect your skin, too, so you don’t have to sacrifice any aspect of your health to give your body what it needs.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes the body’s absorption of calcium, a mineral that helps keep bones and teeth strong. Vitamin D also regulates the body’s calcium levels in the blood, as well as levels of the mineral phosphorus, which also helps to promote healthy bones and teeth.

Vitamin D deficiency can be serious, causing bones to deteriorate and weaken. In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to the bone condition osteoporosis and, in children, it can cause rickets — soft and weak bones.

Although more research is needed, vitamin D also appears to have many other beneficial effects. Studies have shown that vitamin D in sufficient levels can help boost the immune system and possibly decrease the risk of getting some cancers.

Research shows that vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of:

  • Broken bones
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes
  • Viral infections, such as the flu
  • High blood pressure

Where to Get Your Vitamin D

500 mg calcium supplement tablets, with vitami...

Image via Wikipedia

The body produces vitamin D, but it needs sunshine to do it right. You can also take a vitamin D supplement or get vitamin D from certain foods.

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and oysters
  • Vitamin D-enriched cereal
  • Some eggs (but the hens must have been given vitamin D)
  • Vitamin D-fortified orange juice
  • Margarine and butter
  • Vitamin D-fortified milk
  • Dairy foods including cream and cheese

The Vitamin D Conundrum

So just how much vitamin D do you need? It depends on your gender and age. Get too little vitamin D, and you’ll feel the effects of vitamin D deficiency. Too much of it — and your blood can contain too much calcium, harming your lungs and heart.

Here are the standard recommendations for vitamin D intake for women:

  • Age 14 to 50: 200 international units (IU)
  • Age 51 to 70: 400 IU
  • Age 71 and older: 600 IU

Many physicians are now testing vitamin D levels in their patients and finding that many women (and men) have low vitamin D levels. If your level is low, your doctor may recommend much higher supplement doses, often 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day.

How to Boost Vitamin D Levels

To get enough vitamin D from the sun, you need to spend about 5 to 15 minutes in the sun, just three times each week, without sunscreen. Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer, so make sure you limit your exposure. Also, you can expose your arms and legs, but you should always protect your face with sunscreen. If you don’t feel safe in the sun, turn to your diet and a vitamin D supplement to get the vitamin D you need.

Remember that you still need vitamin D in the winter. For many people, especially those in northern climates, it’s hard to get enough sun during those months, and a supplement may be necessary. African-Americans and others with darker skin tones may also be less able to absorb enough sunlight for sufficient vitamin D production from the sun alone.

Other Essential Vitamins

One of Vitamin D’s main roles is to help ensure that your body can absorb calcium, but you’ve also got to make sure you’re getting enough calcium so that vitamin D can do its job. You should try to get between 1,000 and 1,200 daily milligrams of calcium through diet or supplements (calcium supplements are available with vitamin D, enabling you to get both in one pill).

A daily multivitamin can also offer essential vitamins to help protect women’s health. Multivitamins usually contain vitamin D — often 200 IU or 400 IU — so be sure to read labels. Look for a multivitamin that also contains these vitamins:

  • Folate (folic acid) to help prevent anemia
  • Vitamin A to promote bone health and healthy cells
  • Vitamin B6 and B12 to prevent birth defects, some cancers, and heart disease
  • Vitamin C to prevent infection and promote collagen growth, which helps form healthy bones and teeth
  • Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and promotes strong bones

Vitamins, including vitamin D, are an important part of women’s health. But still, be careful to limit unprotected sun exposure and to get enough dietary vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplement if you want an alternative to the sun.

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