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Vitamin D: Why It's Important

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in the human body. It has many functions, and a lack of vitamin D can lead to many health problems.

Bone Growth

Vitamin D is essential in bone growth. Its main role in the body is to increase the flow of calcium into the bloodstream. It does this by promoting absorption of calcium from food. Without vitamin D, calcium would not be absorbed into the body. Therefore, vitamin D is equally important to the maintenance of bone health as is calcium.

Extreme deficiency of vitamin D during childhood results in a disease called rickets. Rickets is the softening of bones in children that can lead to fractures or deformity. The importance of vitamin D in bone health continues into adulthood. Vitamin D deficiency is a leading cause of osteomalacia, thinning of the bone, which is a precursor to osteoporosis.

More Functions of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has other roles in the body. It is used in the maintenance of several organ systems as well as the immune system.  Because of its important funstions, vitamin D deficiency can lead to many other health problems. Heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer have been associated with a lack of vitamin D. Additionally, new studies suggest that vitamin D may play a role in protecting against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Pregnant women, at greater risk of malnutrition, should closely monitor their vitamin D intake. It has been shown that those with low levels have given birth to children with low bone density.

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

An average healthy adult between the ages of 19 and 50 should receive about 200 IU's of vitamin D a day. Older adults should have higher levels to ensure proper bone maintenance. Recommendations for those between the age of 51 and 70 is 400 IU and 600 IU for people over the age of 70. However, these numbers are low level recommendations to avoid severe deficiency. In most cases, higher levels are healthy. Vitamin D toxicity is possible but very unlikely.

Vitamin D supplementation is very common to those suffering from deficiency or at risk for osteoporosis.

Vitamin D Sources

Vitamin D is naturally produced in the human body when exposed to sunlight. Limited sun exposure has been a leading cause of vitamin D deficiency. Depending on season, geographic latitude and time of day, you can receive an adequate amount of vitamin D simply by goin outside. On average, 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight will provide you with a daily amount of vitamin D.

The other way to get vitamin D is through your diet. Milk in the United States is usually fortified with vitamin D. However, it will not provide you with the recommended level. Therefore, other foods should be incorporated into the diet. Fish, especially ones with high fat content such as salmon, catfish, and tuna, have high levels of vitamin D. Whole eggs and fortified cereals are also good sources of vitamin D.

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