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November 2013

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D research continues and evidence keeps building that this “sunshine” vitamin is good for more than just strong bones.  Recent studies link this essential vitamin to decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, immune diseases, arthritis and when combined with exercise, preventing falls in older adults.  Last year an expert committee from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) increased vitamin D recommendations slightly, to 800 IU for individuals over 70 years old.  The IOM report based new recommendations predominately on bone health needs and not claims that link this vitamin to other illnesses.  Many health experts believe this recommendation is still too low, especially for people at high risk for vitamin D deficiency or those with low levels of vitamin  D. 

Vitamin D - The Basics
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin.  We rely on sunlight for most of our vitamin D.  Sunlight triggers the skin to produce an inactive form of D, which is then converted to the active form in the liver.  However there is concern that current indoor lifestyles and the use of sunscreens may compromise vitamin D levels.  

Vitamin D - Food Sources
There are few good food sources of vitamin D, making it  difficult to get the IOM’s recommended 800 IU Vitamin D from diet alone; however it is a good place to start.

Ways To Boost Vitamin D

  • Go outside a little bit each day for “safe” sun exposure, 15 minutes before 10am or after 2pm. 
  • Make the most of food sources. 
  • Maintain a healthyweight since this vitamin gets trapped in fat cells! 
  • If you fall short, supplement with vitamin D daily; most supplements contain 400 IU of D.  Do not exceed 2000 IU of D from food and supplements unless directed by your physician.  NOTE: Check with your doctor before starting supplements, especially if you have a history of kidney stones.

Are You At Risk?
Some key factors that may contribute to vitamin D deficiency:

  • Little effective sun exposure (sunscreen use or not going outdoors).
  • If you have very dark skin, osteoporosis or excess body fat.
  • If you have a gastrointestinal disorder that affects vitamin D absorption.
  • If you take medications that alter vitamin D.  Some interfere with absorption (mineral oil and cholesterol lowering meds), others decreasethe production of vitamin D (some calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease, and antacids (Tagamet)). Check with your pharmacist regarding medication you are on and possible interactions.

Check Your Status
The only way to know if you are deficient is to have a blood test. When you see your physician get it checked, especially if you are at risk.  25-hydroxy-vitamin D will be measured.  The desirable range is 20-100 µg/ml.  The IOM uses 20 µg/ml, however several experts recommend a minimum of 30µg/ml. If your vitamin D is low, your doctor will give you a supplement and recheck your levels in 3-6 months.


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