Did you know that vitamin D is comprised of more than one vitamin? Vitamin D is actually a “family” of vitamins that includes vitamin D2 (calciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D3 is found in animal-based foods and vitamin D2 is found in plants. Although both help to fulfill your vitamin D requirements, research at times has shown that vitamin D3 may raise your blood levels of this important vitamin slightly more than vitamin D2. Keep in mind, both are still needed.
Vitamin D is important to your body because it helps to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D can lead to soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain and other maladies. These studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease, although they do not definitively prove that lack of vitamin D causes disease – or that vitamin D supplements would lower risk. As with many nutrition findings, more research is still needed.
3 tips to increase vitamin D
1. Consume foods that contain vitamin D. Sources of vitamin D3 include liver, egg yolk, butter, fatty fish, fish oil and supplements. Vitamin D2 can be found in mushrooms (grown in UV light), fortified foods and also in dietary supplements. These foods can easily be added to your diet in the following ways:
- Eat fatty fish twice a week (salmon, herring, sardines and canned tuna)
- Eat some eggs
- Choose milk or orange juice that has been fortified* with vitamin D
- Take fish oil supplements, such as cod liver oil
*Since vitamin D2 is cheaper to produce, it’s usually the most common form found in fortified foods.
2. Spend time in the sun. Even in Wisconsin, you can get sunlight to help your body produce the necessary vitamin D it needs. However, this works best if you are without sunscreen and lightly clad with clothing, which can be difficult in the winter months. Bottom line, getting outdoors for some vitamin D is always a good idea, but even if you don’t get the formation of this precious vitamin, getting outside and breathing fresh air is never a poor choice. Climates like Wisconsin may require you to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months.
3. Talk with your physician. Take an active role in requesting that your vitamin D levels be checked. If you need a supplement, the safe upper limit for vitamin D is 4,000 IU’s. Your physician may put you on a dose ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 IU’s or more a day. According to the US Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance is 400 to 800 IU’s. Bottom line, make sure your levels are monitored and check your level before you decide to supplement.