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D is for Defense: Four Things to Know about Vitamin D and Your Health

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What is Vitamin D and how much do I need?

Vitamin D is a nutrient your body needs for several reasons. It is critical in helping your body absorb calcium (which contributes to overall bone health). It also helps with overall immunity and other important functions, including muscle stability and aiding in neurotransmission. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. The average daily recommended amounts for adults between 19 and 70 years of age with no vitamin D deficiency is 600 IUs (international unites); 800 IUs if over the age of 70.

How do I get vitamin D? Through diet? Sunlight?

According to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for American’s, people should aim to get their nutrients primarily from diet as they are more easily absorbed. However, there are very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, so certain foods are fortified to provide larger amounts of vitamin D. Milk from the US, for example, is fortified with vitamin D, as are many cereals, some orange juice, English muffins and others. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are among the best natural food sources of vitamin D. Your body also makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun; but no more than 15 minutes a day of full exposure is recommended to avoid skin cancer.

What about supplements?

Vitamin D is available in multi-vitamins, and in supplements of D2 or D3 (both of which raise your vitamin D level, but D3 might raise it higher and longer than D2.) One way to determine if you are getting enough vitamin D from diet and sun exposure is through a simple blood test that your doctor can order. Studies show that about 40% of the US population is deficient in vitamin D, and Blacks and Hispanics face the highest risk (research shows us that darker skins absorb less vitamin D from sun exposure).

I keep hearing about Vitamin D as a treatment and possible prevention against COVID Should I be taking a Vitamin D supplement?

More research is needed when it comes to vitamin D and COVID-19. Many reports are strictly observational (versus placebo controlled), but some studies have shown that a deficiency might increase one’s chances of testing positive. Another study showed that 80% of patients hospitalized with covid-19 were deficient in vitamin D. And additional observations suggest that vitamin D could decrease the severity of an infection. Given that such a large percentage of the population is already deficient in vitamin D, it is safe to suggest that most adults can benefit from some vitamin D supplementation.  The bottom line? Talk to your primary care provider if you’re concerned about your vitamin D levels, seek our vitamin D fortified foods, and practice safe sun exposure!

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