Is there a massive vitamin D deficiency epidemic underway?
The sunshine vitamin, better known as vitamin D, isn't technically a vitamin. It's a hormone made in the skin when exposed to sunlight, and the confusion may be part of a bigger problem: an error in the Institute of Medicine's recommendation of 600 IU per day of vitamin D for adults.
That’s the findings of a 2014 research study published in the journal Nutrients. According to researchers at the University of Alberta, the IOM based its vitamin D recommendation on “an average that was far too low to achieve healthy levels of D in the blood,” reports Prevention. “After rerunning the numbers, [researchers] discovered that adults might need more than 8,000 IU to reach safe levels.” This is particularly true for people who live in northern or sun-deprived climates.
Another study released earlier this year by researchers at the University of San Diego and Creighton University analyzed data on people who were taking high levels of vitamin D, which researchers say confirms the 2014 Canadian research. “The new findings suggested that the daily recommendations for vitamin D should be around 7,000 IU,” says Prevention.
If people are so grossly vitamin D deficient, you’d think there would be more obvious signs, like widespread cases of rickets. But mild vitamin D deficiencies rarely present with immediate onset of diseases or health issues—rather, they can look like other illnesses down the road. A vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of broken bones, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Vitamin D is found naturally in animal products including fatty fish, liver, eggs, and dairy. If that’s not on your menu, you can look for vitamin D fortified foods or find a high quality vitamin D supplement. Spending more time in the sun can be helpful, but it is not a guarantee to ensuring your vitamin D levels are at a safe number. Your primary care physician can conduct a simple blood test to measure your vitamin D levels and recommend dietary adjustments.
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Woman in the sun image via Shutterstock