Vitamin D is a nutrient known for its role in building and sustaining healthy bones. At the same time, emerging studies are showing that vitamin D is important for many other functions in the body. Vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, even in those with a healthy diet. Here is what you need to know about vitamin D and wellness.
Vitamin D supports numerous cellular processes including anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antioxidant, immune health, and muscle and brain function. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the gut, protecting and strengthening the bones.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is produced from cholesterol when your skin receives sun exposure. However, even living in sunny California, it is challenging to receive adequate vitamin D from sunshine alone. Certain foods and vitamin D supplements are other essential sources of vitamin D.
There are two main dietary forms of vitamin D, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3, which comes from animal foods, like fatty fish and egg yolks, is much more effective at raising vitamin D levels in the blood compared to vitamin D2 found in mushrooms and yeast. Top food sources of vitamin D are cod liver oil, salmon, canned tuna, beef liver, whole eggs and sardines.
With limited dietary sources of vitamin D, deficiency of this nutrient is quite common. In fact, over 40 percent of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient. Those with darker skin and older adults are at a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can go unnoticed for years or even decades.
Deficiency of vitamin D is linked to osteoporosis, reduced bone density and increased risk of fractures in older adults. Vitamin D deficiency in children is called rickets, which has been significantly reduced with the fortification of certain foods with vitamin D. Studies suggest that individuals with low vitamin D levels have a greater risk of serious health problems including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and certain autoimmune conditions.
If you would like to know your vitamin D level, your health care provider may order a blood test. The test will check your level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Levels below 30 nmol/L are too low and should be corrected.
Here are top ways to help support healthy vitamin D levels:
Consume vitamin D rich foods including fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, eggs and cheese.
Choose vitamin D-fortified products like milk and plant-based milk alternatives, breakfast cereals, yogurt and orange juice.
Include mushrooms in your meal plan as some types of mushrooms are exposed to ultraviolet light, raising their vitamin D content.
Continue to wear sunblock with SPF 15 or higher to protect your skin.
Consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially if your serum vitamin D level is low or if you are a person at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency. Discuss vitamin D supplement dosing with your physician or a registered dietitian.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.