Whether you hear it on the news, from your doctor or read it online, we all hear about how important Vitamin D is in our diets. But do you know why it’s so important?
The major biologic function of Vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It is used, alone or in combination with calcium, to increase bone mineral density and decrease fractures. Recently, research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.
So how do we get Vitamin D in our diets? Well, Vitamin D comes from two places – we take it into our bodies in foods and supplements, and our bodies produce it after sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods like fatty fish (for example, cod liver oil) and egg yolks. Because there are so few natural dietary sources, vitamin D is added to foods such as fortified soymilk, fortified juice, fortified breakfast cereals, cow’s milk, and margarine. (Vegan spreads like Earth Balance do not have vitamin D added.) Typically, soymilk is fortified with vitamin D2, the vegan form of vitamin D, while cereals, juice, and margarine are fortified with vitamin D3 derived from sheep’s wool.
Besides vitamin D from food and supplements, our bodies are able to make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B rays from sunlight under certain conditions. It doesn’t take much sun to stimulate vitamin D production, just 5 to 30 minutes on arms and legs twice a week. However, this sunlight exposure only works at certain times of day and in certain seasons above certain latitudes (or below certain latitudes if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere). Vitamin D production is highest when the sun’s rays are most intense – between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the summer months. In locations above 42 degrees north latitude (Chicago, Boston, and Portland, Oregon, for instance), vitamin D production does not occur from late October through early March. Even as far south as Atlanta (about 35 degrees north latitude), vitamin D production doesn’t occur from November to February.
Factors like sunscreen use, darker skin pigmentation, clothing, pollution, and aging can reduce the amount of vitamin D we produce. Because of this and because of concerns about sun exposure leading to skin cancer, many people feel safer relying primarily on foods or supplements for vitamin D.
The current recommendation for vitamin D is 200 IU per day for children and adults up to 50 years old, 400 IU for 51-70 year olds, and 600 IU for those age 71 years and older. These recommendations are more than 10 years old. Because of more recent research on the role of vitamin D, experts are suggesting intakes of 800 IU or more per day for the average adult and 400 IU for children, with higher intakes recommended to treat deficiency.
If you have concerns about sunlight exposure or live in an area with limited amounts of sunlight each day then a daily supplement might be right for you. Our recommendation is DEVA Vegan Vitamin D 800 IU Tablets.