What does vitamin D really do for us?

July 12, 2017 | by Hollis W. Walker, M.D.

Do you ever notice how the feeling of the warm sun on your skin on a beautiful day helps put you in a better mood? Much of that feeling is your body’s reaction to vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for good health. It does more than keep our bones and teeth strong. It also helps our:

  • Immune system fight infection
  • Muscle function
  • Circulation and blood flow
  • Lungs and airways remain strong
  • Brain develop

It is so vital to our health, researchers are currently studying the link between vitamin D and prevention of long-term illnesses, such as cancer. Although some studies have suggested a protective link between vitamin D and some types of cancer, vitamin D is not currently recommended for cancer or chronic disease prevention.

Even though studies are inconsistent, this is an active area of research, and research is still being conducted to determine whether or not vitamin D impacts cancer risk.

How do I know how much vitamin D I need?

The amount of vitamin D you need depends on your age. The National Institutes of Health recommends individuals ages 71 and older get the most vitamin D. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should also pay attention to their vitamin D levels.

A simple blood test from your doctor can check if you are getting enough vitamin D. Doctors often order a 25-OH vitamin D test to help determine whether you need to take supplements, change your diet or get a little more sun.

If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, you may find yourself with a vitamin D deficiency. Some people have no symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency at all, while other people may find themselves with:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Bone pain
  • Frequent bone fractures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Soft bones that may result in deformities
  • Unexplained fatigue

Individuals with a darker pigment to their skin may also be prone to vitamin D deficiency due to the increased time it takes for the skin to be exposed to sun.

How do I get more vitamin D?

You can get more vitamin D in your diet by eating foods rich in vitamin D, including fatty fish, eggs, canned tuna fish, fortified milk and some types of orange juice.

You can also get more vitamin D by taking supplements and getting exposure to more sunlight. Even short periods of direct peak sun exposure — 15 minutes, 3 times a week — can give you more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin D.

Just remember that sun exposure increases your risk for skin cancer, so be sure to protect yourself by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat while you are in the sun.

Where do you get your vitamin D from? Tell us in the below comments.

Protect your skin. Read 5 steps to lower your risk of skin cancer.

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