Most of us take for granted that adequate amounts of vitamin D are readily available—whether through our diet or through synthesis of sunlight by our skin. Our milk has been "fortified" with it for years, so who gives it much thought, right? We all tend to assume that vitamin D deficiency is no longer a health concern in the Western Hemisphere.
Unfortunately, though, vitamin D deficiency is still a widespread problem, and I'm concerned about the various health issues related to inadequate vitamin D levels, especially during the winter months.
Over the years, I've followed the research on vitamin D very carefully, and I'm convinced of its benefits for bone health and overall support of the immune system. In fact, the important Nurses' Health Study (NHS) has shown that higher levels of vitamin D have been associated with a lower risk for a variety of health problems.
The enormous investigative initiative of NHS was started by Dr. Frank Speizer of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital way back in 1976. Most of the Boston area hospitals, including Harvard's various affiliates and epidemiologists, contribute to the NHS database. To give you a sense of some of their conclusions, I want to list three of the significant findings of NHS regarding potential links between specific health problems and vitamin D:
- As vitamin D intake increased, the risk for colon polyps decreased;
- Vitamin D intake of 400+ IU/day has been associated with decreased risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis;
- Vitamin D intake of 400+ IU/day has been associated with decreased risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
In other words, researchers have been able to confirm that vitamin D is not just for supporting healthy bones and joints (as if that wouldn't have been enough). Medical professionals now agree that deficiencies have been documented to be so catastrophically common that evaluating vitamin D levels should become a standard of care. In fact, it's the first vitamin level I order to be checked in my patients.
I'm convinced that 600 IU a day of vitamin D will greatly help support optimal health in a variety of ways! However, I know many people have concerns about it being a fat soluble vitamin, which means it can be stored in your body rather than eliminated in your urine.
However, it would take more than 2,000 IU a day plus a lot of sunlight to create a situation in which you are getting too much vitamin D. It is important to note, though, that anyone who has been diagnosed with endocrine problems or hypercalcemia (too much calcium) should not take more than 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D a day.
My recommendation for everyone else is to take 600 IU and try to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight on exposed skin each day. You won't be getting too much. You'll be giving your body the vitamin D it needs.