Who hasn’t appreciated the feeling of basking in the sun for a few minutes, especially after a stretch of cloudy and cold weather? Amazingly, science now shows us that sunshine has the power to lift our moods, strengthen our bones, and even keep our hearts healthy.
I’ve been talking for years about the importance of vitamin D and the rest of the world is slowly catching on. Vitamin D is actually a misnomer. It’s not a vitamin; it’s a hormone. The body manufactures vitamin D from sunlight exposure. It’s available in very limited quantities in some foods, like seafood (cod liver oil) and milk is fortified with it; however, the amount found in food is very low. In fact, you would have to eat 100 eggs or 170 cubes of cheese every day to get the recommended amount of Vitamin D. Just imagine what that would do to your waistline – not to mention your cholesterol!
But what if you get occasional sun exposure or are taking calcium + vitamin D supplements or drinking milk fortified with vitamin D? Chances are you’re not getting too much. Vitamin D toxicity is rare, even in those taking upward of 10,000 IU per day.
If you live in northern climates (latitudes north of around Atlanta, Georgia) it may be impossible to manufacture enough vitamin D from sun exposure during the winter months. During the summer and for those in sunny climates, sunscreen use, age, skin pigmentation, obesity and other factors can inhibit the body’s ability to make adequate vitamin D.
Why the Concern?
Vitamin D deficiency is known to cause many problems and may put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, osteomalacia and other bone issues, and aches and pains. Your cells, including those in your brain, heart, even breast tissue, have vitamin D receptors and adequate levels of this hormone are required to keep them all running efficiently.
Important research hot off the press: a study published in the July 2012 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that vitamin D, when taken in higher doses – between 800 and 2000 IUs per day – substantially reduces the likelihood of broken bones in both men and women. This was a meta-analysis of 11 individual randomized controlled trials all of which focused on the effect of vitamin D supplementation in those over age 65. Among the 31,000 seniors who were taking between 800 to 2000 IU of vitamin D, they found a 30% decrease in the risk of hip fractures with a significant decrease in risk of fractures of other bones as well.
In the sometimes over-hyped world of diet fads and wonder-cures, research is proving vitamin D to be worth its buzz. Many scientific studies are in the works and as experts call for changes in current vitamin D recommendations.