Why is it important to take vitamin D?

You should take vitamin D3, which is the most active form of vitamin D and the kind your body makes naturally when sunlight hits your skin. For decades, D was seen mainly as a wingman for calcium, helping it build bones. But then scientists began announcing one potent power after another: Vitamin D fights cancer, diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and more. Low levels trigger obesity in kids. And asthma, digestive woes and pneumonia. The research was good and the findings important.

Then it became clear that low D3 was nearly epidemic. Then came the inevitable aftermath: hypermarketing of megadoses of D3 (like 10,000 international units a day) on the Internet. Megadoses of D3 can wreak havoc on your kidneys and arteries.

Should you take D3? Absolutely. In fact, you almost have to, because it's tough to get enough from food or even from sunlight hitting your skin. Fact: 60 to 80 percent of folks who live north of an imaginary line running from Atlanta to Los Angeles are short on D in the winter. Those who live south of that line are often D-ficient in summer, when they stay indoors, where it's air conditioned. Here's how to get the right amount:

  • Get as much as you can from food. There’s a fair amount in canned tuna, sardines, eggs and D-fortified dairy foods, OJ and cereals.
  • Get your D3 levels tested if you suspect you’re low. You probably are if you have dark skin, always wear sunscreen and a hat, are obese, live in the north, are elderly or have trouble digesting fats. The blood test can be fluky, so if you get an extreme result (below 50 or above 80), ask your doctor to run it again.
  • If your D3 levels are okay, cap your total daily intake at 1,000 international units. Make that 1,200 after age 60. That includes what you get from food and a multivitamin.

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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.