Q&A: Do I Need A Vitamin D Supplement?

Considering that over 40% of Americans are vitamin D deficient, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), it’s worth taking a closer at your Vitamin D intake. Let me give you the low-down on Vitamin D:

Why is Vitamin D Important? Vitamin D keeps bones strong and may also have an important role in muscle, heart, and immune health.

Where Do You Get Vitamin D? Eggs, fatty fish, and fortified foods like dairy, juices, and breakfast cereals and… the SUN. Fun Fact: Getting sun exposure on arms, legs, and face for 15 to 30 minutes twice a week in the summer months provides as much Vitamin D as about 10 cups of milk!

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 to 800 international units (IU) for most adults, but 1000 to 1200 IU may be needed to support bone health according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Who’s At Risk of Deficiency? Anyone living North or South of 37 degrees latitude from November to February (a.k.a. most New Englanders), people with darker skin, older adults, obese people, avid sunscreen-users, and people with gastrointestinal problems.

How Do You Know If You’re Deficient? Though some people do not have symptoms initially, bone pain and muscle weakness are the most common signs. Brittle bones, osteoporosis, and a weak immune system are other complications that appear in the later stages of Vitamin D deficiency.

So, do you need a Vitamin D supplement? Maybe…

If you have any of the symptoms or risk factors listed above or if you have a family history of osteoporosis, then you may be Vitamin D deficient. It’s best to confirm this with a serum 25(OH)D test, which can easily be done by your primary care doctor to check the level of vitamin D in your blood.

Since few foods are good sources of Vitamin D and the sun is not a reliable source for most of us in the winter months, a supplement is the best option if your labs confirm a deficiency. Most multivitamins have 400 IU of vitamin D, but a separate vitamin D supplement (D2 or D3) with 800 to 1000 IU may be needed to meet your needs. However, be sure not to over-supplement. While toxicity is rare, taking more than 4000 IU of Vitamin D per day, for adults, can cause poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and kidney problems. So, more is definitely not better!

Want to learn more about Vitamin D? Check out this article that I wrote from the Friedman Sprout for a closer look at the research on Vitamin D.

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