Once linked primarily to bone health, this is just the latest piece of evidence showing that Vitamin D’s benefits are actually far more wide-reaching than previously thought.
“Vitamin D has very important effects on our immune system,” says Kevin Passero, a naturopathic physician based in Annapolis, Md.
It may help the body build resistance to colds and flu viruses, he says. Early clinical studies also indicate that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer — specifically breast, prostate and colon cancer.
But there is a big problem. Most people don’t get nearly enough Vitamin D. Passero says 85 percent of people have a vitamin D deficiency.
Unlike other vitamins, which people can get from food, Vitamin D is produced by the body itself. The secret ingredient is sunshine.
Busy lifestyles mean people get less sun exposure than in the past, particularly in the winter months, when the days are shorter and darker.
“Vitamin D levels are always the lowest in the spring and the highest in the fall, because of course, the spring is after winter and the fall is after summer,” Passero says.
A simple blood test can check for Vitamin D levels. Passero says the test should be a part of the blood work-up done with any basic physical.
The best remedy for low Vitamin D is usually over-the-counter supplements. Eating more vitamin D-fortified foods and taking a daily multi-vitamin can help, but they don’t provide enough of this essential nutrient to fix a deficiency.
In a 2012 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is disagreement over what constitutes the optimal intake of vitamin D.
Passero suggests looking for a supplement that is labeled “Vitamin D-3,” which is the active form of Vitamin D. Generally, an intake of up to 2000 IUs a day is considered safe for adults. For children, 800 to 1000 is the recommended limit.