Public Health Corner

Vitamin D is commonly known to be important for bone health, especially for the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis. Newer research, however, suggests that its benefits are greater. These additional benefits include the prevention of genetic bone disorders, cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), and psoriasis. It is also important for brain health, controlling inflammation in the body and improving immunity.

Humans get vitamin D from the sun, foods and beverages, and supplements. It is common to overestimate the amount of vitamin D we get from the sun, as the body produces it only from sunlight that is direct. You won’t get a dose of it from sitting by a window while indoors or in the car, or while wearing sunscreen. During most seasons Minnesotans do not get enough sun because of our distance from the equator.

Another challenge to getting enough vitamin D is the fact that not many foods contain it. Foods with the highest amounts of vitamin D are cod liver oil and some types of fatty fish. Other foods with lower amounts, in descending order, are mushrooms grown with UV light, and fortified milk, milk alternatives, and cereals. Egg yolks, beef liver, tuna fish, cheese, chicken and beef also contain some vitamin D, but are not good sources of it. Folks who don’t get enough vitamin D in their diet over time are at risk for deficiency.

It can be hard to know if you are getting enough vitamin D in your diet. The current recommended daily value (DV) (amount needed per day) varies by age, ranging from 400 to 800 IU. Taking a vitamin D supplement is an option, but this may not be appropriate for everyone.

Certain groups are at greater risk for deficiency. These groups include breastfed infants, older adults, people with dark pigmented skin, people with little sun exposure, and people with certain digestive disorders and other health conditions. A blood test to measure vitamin D is available. If you feel that you are deficient, or at risk for deficiency talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.

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