NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Vitamin D is Important for Overall Health

vitamin D, benefits of sunlight, vitamin D benefits, sources of vitamin D

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

I’ve been thinking it’s time to pack away my winter hats, boots and scarves to prepare for summer. It seems mother nature might finally be in agreement! I’m ready for gardening and finding my floppy-brimmed hat, along with some gardening tools.  

On the nutrition and health side, exposure to sunlight helps our body manufacture some vitamin D. Our skin can form vitamin D from sun exposure. According to vitamin D researchers, five to 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week can help our skin form vitamin D.

Vitamin D is best known for its role in building and maintaining bones because it helps our body absorb calcium. Children and adults need vitamin D, calcium and a wide variety of nutrients to keep bones strong throughout their lifetime.

We also know that we need to protect our skin from too much sun exposure, which could increase our risk for skin cancer. Health experts recommend minimizing our sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., using ample SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher sunscreen, and wearing wide-brimmed hats, ultraviolet-protective sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing.

Our bones are not static; they constantly are being remodeled. Nourishing and exercising our bones may help protect us from osteoporosis.

Besides bone health, adequate vitamin D may help prevent colon cancer and potentially some other cancers, at least according to some research. More research is under way.

Other researchers are examining the role that vitamin D may play in reducing the risk for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, depression and other diseases.

Some people are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D. Those of us with limited sun exposure are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Other at-risk groups include infants who are breastfed exclusively, older adults, those with dark skin, and those who are obese or who have undergone gastric bypass surgery.

Those of us who are inside buildings the better part of six months out of the year need to rely on food and supplements. We have a few foods available that are good sources of vitamin D, but we need to think about our food choices to meet our needs.

Fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines also are good natural sources of vitamin D. Fortified orange juice and milk provide vitamin D. Liver, eggs and fortified cereals also provide vitamin D.

The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D varies with age. From age 1 to 70, the recommendation is 600 IU per day and at 70 years, the recommendation is 800 IU.

Be aware that some people need far more than the current recommendation. Your medical provider may run lab tests to determine your vitamin D status. Your provider may prescribe therapeutic doses of vitamin D supplements to increase the vitamin D levels in your blood, so be sure to follow that advice.

Be sure to think about your food selections and, potentially, supplements to be sure you are taking in enough vitamin D.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

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