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How can I get enough vitamin D?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Even in summer, few North Americans get enough sun to activate their skin's vitamin D3 factory for long (why it's called the “sunshine vitamin”). In winter, vitamin D deficiencies are way worse. The sun's rays are too wimpy to have much effect. Yet D3 (vitamin D's most active form) is essential. It protects you from brittle bones, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, certain cancers and more. It even perks up your memory.

Here are some tactics for getting more vitamin D3:
  • Start with food. Canned salmon is terrific: 500 IU of D in 3 ounces. Canned tuna's good, too: 200 IU in 3 ounces. Each glass of D-enriched OJ and nonfat milk adds another 100 IU.
  • Take a supplement. Swallow 1,000 IUs of D3 a day, 1,200 after 60. Taking it with your omega-3s boosts absorption. (Taking it with a meal helps too.)
  • Get a blood test for D3. It's the only way to know how you're doing. If it's low (below 50), adjust and recheck in three months. Your payoff: Adults with the highest D3 have the fewest "cardiometabolic disorders," a cluster of nasties that includes heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Spending just 20 minutes a day in the sunshine -- without sunscreen -- during the summer months provides enough vitamin D to last you through the year, says Dana Simpler, MD, a physician in private practice in Baltimore. "People with dark complexions may need up to an hour," she says. You can also get vitamin D from supplements and foods such as dark leafy greens, and vitamin D-fortified orange juice and soy milk. According to the Institute of Medicine, most people need 600 IUs of vitamin D a day. People ages 71 and over require 800 IUs of vitamin D daily, possibly more, depending on their health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.