Issue: October 2007 Issue
There Goes the Sun
Stuck inside all day? Don't forget the vitamin D.
Welcome to autumn. The leaves are falling — as are the temperatures — which means more time spent indoors and more risk for a deficiency in vitamin D: the sunshine vitamin.
With 220 cloudy or partly-cloudy days a year, Cleveland is the fifth-cloudiest city in the lower 48 states. That, and the fact that most adults have diets low in vitamin D-rich foods, means Northeast Ohioans don't get the vitamin D their bodies need.
"When you don't get enough vitamin D to meet your body's requirements, your body begins leaching calcium out of your bones," says University Hospitals/Case Medical Center dietitian Lisa Cimperman. "That means you have weaker bones now, [which leads to] falls and breaks when you get older."
Signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are subtle and often missed: bone pain and muscle weakness.
Bones and muscles aren't the only things that suffer when vitamin D levels are low. Research indicates the vitamin plays a role in immune-system health in the prevention of tuberculosis, and prostate, breast, pancreatic and colon cancers. It may also play a role in lung function.
In a perfect world, you'd get all the vitamin D you needed by exposing your face and arms to the sun three times a week for 15 minutes. But because most of us are indoors when the sun is at its vitamin D-producing best, the other options are vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, or supplements.
With the latter, choose calcium-vitamin D pills. Take them with food for better absorption and don't gulp them down all at once. No matter how much vitamin D and calcium you take at one time, your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams of the calcium. The rest is washed out in your urine.
As for the optimum dosage, the standard recommendation is 200 International Units (IUs) a day from birth to age 50 and 400 IUs a day for people between ages 51 and 70. "But," notes Cimperman, "some studies suggest people should be getting — from all sources combined — at least 800 IUs a day."
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