Supplementing Vitamin D should be diet dependent

Vitamin D is a very popular vitamin. It seems that every week we will see a study associating vitamin D deficiency with a disease. So why do we need vitamin D? For a starter, we need vitamin D for bone growth. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones become brittle and break more easily.

Vitamin D is likely beneficial for other parts of the body as well; studies suggest an overall decrease in death, in addition to reductions in blood pressure, respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, and depression. Adequate vitamin D during pregnancy also appears to reduce the chances of having a low-birth weight baby. Additional studies looking at the benefits of vitamin D on various conditions are ongoing. A small study recently suggested that high-dose vitamin D could reduce redness and inflammation following sunburns, but the dose tested far exceeded the recommended daily dose of vitamin D.

So, how does our body get vitamin D we need? Our body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sun. Vitamin D produced by the skin is most effective as it can last at least twice as long the vitamin D taken in through foods or supplements. It is estimated that most people need 1,000 to 1,500 hours of sun exposure throughout the spring, summer, and fall to obtain the necessary amount of vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common and on the rise. This is mostly due to vigilant sun protection—for example, sunscreen with SPF 30 reduces vitamin D production by 95%. Vitamin D can be obtained through other sources, including fatty fish (such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon), foods fortified with vitamin D (such as dairy products, soy milk, and cereals), beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Of course, vitamin D supplements are needed for people most at risk for deficiency, including breastfed infants, older adults, people with limited sun exposure, darker skinned individuals, and overweight individuals.

As we know, too much a good thing could be bad. Over supplementing vitamin D can be harmful. Ironically, too much vitamin D can increase fractures, falls, and kidney stones, and can be toxic by causing excessive levels of calcium. Although not proven, high vitamin D levels have been associated with prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and mortality.

So how much is too much? For adults, toxic effects increase above 4,000 IU per day. The recommended dietary dose of vitamin D is 600 IU each day for adults 70 and younger and 800 IU each day for adults over 70. To put this into perspective, 4 ounces of cooked salmon contains approximately 600 IU of vitamin D.

So what’s the take home message? Supplement should be diet dependent. If you have the habit of eating Vitamin D rich food such as salmon, egg and milk, you might not need to supplement a lot of Vitamin D.

Thanks for reading.

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