Vitamin D Still Useful?

October 16, 2013

A recent study found that vitamin D wasn't useful in protecting against bone fracture. Should you continue to supplement for health? SupermarketGuru says yes! Find out why here

The colder months are here, and that means it's time to talk Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin! During fall and winter, the sun sets earlier, its rays are weaker, and we have the tendency to stay indoors longer. So how are we supposed to obtain this essential 'sunshine' vitamin when nature is working against us? And by the way, a lack of vitamin D is fairly common in those who live in warm sunny climates as well as colder climates.

So why do we need it? It seems like everyday researchers are finding that vitamin D plays a role in almost every aspect of human metabolism. Research has suggested that vitamin D may aid in the reduction and protection from adverse cardiovascular events, hypertension, cancer, asthma, insulin response, and several autoimmune diseases by modulating neuromuscular and immune function and helping to reduce inflammation. Vitamin D also helps control the cell life cycle keeping good cells and getting rid of cells that are no longer necessary. Vitamin D's most well known role in the body is to aid in the absorption and regulation of calcium; deficiency can result in a variety of bone disorders including rickets, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis which currently affects over 10 million Americans over age 50. Like all vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is important in maintaining optimal health.

On the other hand, a recent meta-analysis published in the Lancet reported that vitamin D does not protect against bone fractures from osteoporosis –but flaws in the research (low amounts of vitamin D were supplemented) has other researchers and health professionals continuing to praise the many benefits of this vitamin. The study also failed to look at how vitamin D and calcium work together for bone health.

Here are more of the basics you need to know to especially during this time of year. Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble vitamins that can be obtained several ways: from exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet B), by consuming certain foods, and by taking supplements. In the summer months, most people meet their vitamin D needs through planned sun exposure like sunbathing or unintentionally from exercising outdoors in a t-shirt.

Various factors affect our body's ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight including season, geographic latitude, time of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, age, and sunscreen. Direct sun exposure for 15 minutes three times a week, despite the factors mentioned above, is thought to keep our body's vitamin D stores at healthy levels. 

What foods should you shop for vitamin D? Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp and fish liver oils are the best sources.

Vitamin D can also be found in small amounts in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, butter, and some mushrooms including shitake and portabello (Dole Foods). Other foods have been fortified with vitamin D, thus do not naturally contain the vitamin, and include milk (cow, soy and rice) and some brands of orange juice, margarine, and yogurt. Breakfast cereals often contain around 10 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D as well (but if consuming with fat free milk, vitamin D - a fat soluble vitamin - is less likely to be absorbed).

The National Institute of Health recommends at least 600 IU of vitamin D daily but even that might not be enough to sufficiently raise blood levels. As always consult your health practitioner before supplementing with vitamin D and changing your diet. It is also advised if supplementing with vitamin D to have your blood levels checked regularly.