Sunday, May 3, 2009

Vitamin D May Be Our Most Important Vitamin Supplement

Vitamins are those special chemicals that help our bodies function properly. Most studies support getting our vitamins in food rather than in supplements. Food products naturally balance the content of nutrients including vitamins, and it is possible to take too much of some vitamins if we take supplements. Besides Vitamin D, discussed here, the other most important vitamin supplement is folic acid (a B vitamin) if you are a woman and might get pregnant, and during pregnancy.

Recent studies show that Vitamin D is beneficial for many things, from preventing diabetes and heart disease to preventing cancer and having healthy bones. Vitamin D is not really a vitamin but a hormone substance that is vital to the body. Hormones are chemicals produced in one part of the body and travel to other parts to help the body function. The thyroid gland, the ovary and the testicle are examples of organs that make vital hormones. Turns out, Vitamin D is made in the skin from sun exposure and travels throughout the body doing good work.

To avoid skin cancer, and because of living indoors much of the time, we are not getting as much Vitamin D as our ancestors. Sunscreen blocks the sun absorption that produces Vitamin D. There is a lot of discussion today about getting enough "healthy" sun exposure to both produce Vitamin D and yet not raise the risk of skin cancer. About 20-30 minutes a day of direct sunlight to our skin seems to be more beneficial than harmful. Natural sun is preferred rather than "tanning booths" that only give certain UV radiation.

Vitamin D can be taken as oral supplements. In the past, 200 - 400 IU was considered an adequate daily dose, and many calcium supplements have this amount of Vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board now feels that we should be getting 1000 - 2000 IU daily. Stay tuned to this as the discussions are ongoing. The good news is that Vitamin D is readily available and inexpensive to take. It may be the most important of all vitamin supplements for children and adults of all ages. People with limited sun exposure, dark skin, over age 50 and overweight or obese have an increased need for the supplement. It is safe in doses up to 2000 mg for adults. Supplement doses for children are still being worked out.

So, put Vitamin D down on your list of important health habits and consider both your regular "healthy" sun exposure and taking a supplement.

No comments: