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Your body gets vitamin D in three ways: from the foods you eat, from supplements and from exposure to sunlight (which helps your skin make vitamin D). The easiest way to increase your level of vitamin D may be to spend more time outdoors. Talk to your doctor about how much time you can safely spend in the sun without getting sunburned and the best ways to protect your skin while still getting the benefits of the "sunshine vitamin."
You can also increase your vitamin D levels by eating foods rich in this nutrient, including canned and fresh fish, cod liver oil, liver, eggs and fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals. If you and your doctor don't think you're getting enough vitamin D from these sources, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement.
The safest and most practical way to increase the body’s level of Vitamin D is by taking a daily multivitamin and mineral formula (MVM) that contains between 600 and 1200 international units (IUs) of Vitamin D. The new recommended daily intake is 600 IUs for adults up to age 70, which is 3 times more than the previous recommendation. For people older than 70, the new goal is 800 IUs per day. Considering research shows that most people never met the previous lower recommendations, to reach these new goals with food alone is probably not likely for most. Food sources of Vitamin D are scarce or undesirable, and sunlight, which can produce Vitamin D under the right conditions, is no longer recommended because it increases the risk of skin cancer and is too variable.
Below is a list of foods with relatively high Vitamin D content. Other than milk and possibly eggs, these foods are not common to the daily American diet. Add the facts that many adults no longer get nearly as much milk as when they were younger and you would need a lot of eggs to make a dent in your daily requirements. Therefore, a MVM makes the most sense since it also contains other nutrients your diet may be short on.
- Cooked salmon (3.5 ounces) -- 360 IUs
- Cooked mackerel 3.5 ounces) -- 345 IUs
- Tuna fish in oil (3.0 ounces) -- 200 IUs
- Vitamin D fortified milk (1cup/ 8 fl oz) -- 98 IUs
- Fortified cereal (3/4-1 cup) -- 40 IUs
- Egg (1 each) -- 20 IUs
- Swiss Cheese (1 ounce) -- 12 IUs
Quick facts on Vitamin D: although the Institute of Medicine (IOM) raised the recommendation of Vitamin D as noted above, most top Vitamin D researchers still think they are too low. Many recent studies have linked high blood levels of Vitamin D to a reduced risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension, cancers, diabetes and others. Therefore, most Vitamin D experts recommend blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D to be no less than 30ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter), which may require a daily intake of at least 1000IUs/day of Vitamin D.
Since vitamin D can be produced in our bodies by the action of sunlight on the skin, many experts consider it more a hormone than a vitamin. Sunlight changes a compound (7-dehydrocholesterol) in the skin into vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). It is generally thought that as little as 15 minutes of direct sunlight on the skin can significantly raise vitamin D levels, but recent research has challenged this conventional wisdom. For example, from the latitude of San Francisco northward-or from Buenos Aires southward-for three to six months of the year, no amount of exposure will generate substantial vitamin D in even the palest skin.
To ensure adequate vitamin D levels, supplementation is warranted, especially for those who live in a high latitude or who get little direct sunlight. There are two major dietary forms of vitamin D: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is the form most often added to milk and other foods, as well as the form most often used in nutritional supplements. Vitamin D3 in nutritional supplements is most often derived from fish liver oil or lanolin. Both D2 and D3 are capable of being converted to active vitamin D in the body. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D or are fortified. Fish such as wild salmon (360 IU per 3.5-ounce serving), mackerel, and sardines are good sources of vitamin D3. Fortified foods including milk (100 IU per 8-ounce serving), orange juice (100 IU per 8-ounce serving), and some breads and cereals provide D2. The reason I have specified wild salmon is that the vitamin D content of farmed salmon is 75 percent less than that of wild caught salmon from Alaska.
Recently, most experts have been recommending a daily intake of 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D. Although vitamin D conceivably has the potential to cause toxicity, dosages in the range of 800 to 2,000 IU per day are now recognized as being safe levels.
There are three ways to get vitamin D: food, sunlight, and supplements. If you're not getting enough from your diet, or you don't spend much time outdoors (just 10-20 minutes in the sun can significantly boost your body's production of vitamin D), take a daily vitamin D supplement.
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.