Vitamin D is critical to brain development and repair, but most people aren't getting enough of it - in part because they're spending more time indoors. Read on to find out how to compensate.
Vitamin D has been in the news a lot lately, often praised for its contributions to reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, multiple sclerosis and gum disease. It's also won attention for its apparent ability to improve cognitive function, prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease, and relieve depression. One study even suggests that taking a vitamin D supplement reduces mortality from any cause.
At the same time, experts describe an "epidemic" of vitamin D deficiency, suggesting that 40 to 60 percent of Americans don't get enough of the nutrient. Study results published in the New England Journal of Medicine show that people in northern U.S. states are particularly likely to have low levels of the vitamin because they don't get enough exposure to sunlight, which converts a naturally occurring substance in the body into the vitamin. Other risk factors include obesity, dark skin and kidney disease. What's more, the vitamin doesn't occur naturally in many foods.
Just five to 30 minutes of outdoor sun exposure at least twice a week will keep the body producing sufficient amounts of vitamin D to show benefits. However, that assumes that you can get outside all year, you're not wearing sunscreen, you're outdoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and you're exposing plenty of skin (for example, if you're wearing athletic shorts and a tank top). Even under those conditions, the northern U.S., approximately from California's northern border to Boston, doesn't receive enough UV rays to create the vitamin from November through February.
The easiest way to guarantee proper intake of vitamin D is to take a daily supplement that provides at least 200 international units (IU) of the vitamin if you're between the ages of 18 and 50. Over age 50, women need at least 400 IU daily, and over age 70, the recommended daily intake is 600 IU.
Also, a 3-ounce serving of cooked oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, provides 320 IU of vitamin D - and wild-caught salmon has more of the vitamin than farmed varieties. Two cups of vitamin D fortified milk contain the recommended daily amount for women under 50.
Consult with your physician to see if the ideas outlined in this article are appropriate for you. Your physician can advise you of any side effects or drug interactions based on your particular circumstances.
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