The vast majority of Americans are deficient in a particular vitamin, especially during the winter. In the winter, we are largely deprived of sun exposure. The sun’s rays trigger our body to produce vitamin D. When we don’t get sun, we get “D” deficient.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth. It also aids in immunity. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the negative health effects of a vitamin D deficiency.
Low “D” has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In a six-year study of more than 800 adults, those with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 60% more likely to show symptoms of cognitive decline than those with healthy vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is crucial to heart health. In a study of 10,000 people, researchers discovered that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a 40% higher risk of heart disease, a 64% higher risk of heart attack, and an 81% increase in the likelihood of death from heart disease.
The Best Ways to Boost Your Vitamin D Levels
The best way to boost your vitamin D levels is to increase your skin’s exposure to the sun’s rays. That’s not likely to happen when you’re indoors and wearing long sleeves.
However, you can get some artificial sun from tanning beds. This is a controversial suggestion, since excess tanning can damage the skin. But an occasional visit to a tanning booth that emits UVB rays can, in fact, boost your vitamin D levels. Whether tanning indoors using artificial sun or outdoors using the real thing, never allow your skin to burn. And if you have fair skin, don’t try for a deep, dark tan. A tan that is several shades darker than your natural tone is a sign of skin damage.
You can boost your vitamin D intake somewhat by eating fatty fish, including salmon and tuna, and consuming egg and milk products. But few foods contain high levels of the vitamin. Most people will need to take a separate vitamin D supplement to attain sufficient levels.
Not all vitamin D supplements are created equal. Recent studies suggest that vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) works better than D2 (ergocalciferol). A 2015 study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition found that only 25% of those who take D3 still exhibit a vitamin D deficiency, versus 56% among D2 users.
Even the full recommended dosage of a vitamin D supplement may not be enough. But if it’s D3, you are more likely to avoid deficiency as your body will more fully absorb it.
You can safely take vitamin D at levels well above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). The RDA for adults up to age 70 is 600 IU. For adults over 70, it’s 800 IU. Many nutritionists believe these levels are set too low. Vitamin D supplements can contain up to 5,000 IU per serving.
How to Know if You Are “D” Deficient
How much (if any) of a vitamin D boost do you need? You can have your vitamin D levels tested by a doctor to find out for sure. Or you can purchase a test kit and do it yourself. The Vitamin D Council (805-439-1075) offers a $50 home test kit (www.vitamindcouncil.org/testkit).