Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We all need a little sunshine

If you are one of the many sufferers of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), maybe it's not just about the lack of light that accompanies the winter months. Researchers have found a link between depression and low levels of vitamin D. But feeling down in the dumps from a lack of sunlight isn't the only problem here.

Higher levels of vitamin D actually increase measures of physical performance in older adults and, according to a Harvard study, low levels increase the odds of a man dying from heart disease or suffering a heart attack by more than 50%! Low levels also have been linked with prostate and breast cancer and osteoporosis. Plus, vitamin D helps with the body's absorption of calcium and sufficient levels lead to a longer life.

Vitamin D has been referred to as "the most important vitamin you are probably not taking." The problem of having enough vitamin D stems from diet (not drinking enough fortified milk), not spending enough time in the sun and obesity. Vitamin D gets trapped in the fat cells of overweight people, making them more prone to deficiencies.

So how much D does the average person need? There is no RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) established at this point. But researchers have recently expressed concern about the low levels of vitamin D in children, stating the worrisome link to rickets. As a matter of fact, studies reveal that one out of every five children do not get enough vitamin D. A minimum daily intake of 400 IU had been recommended, but experts are now saying adults need a minimum of 1,000 IU, with possibly more needed in the months when sunshine seems to be on sabbatical. Despite the warnings about skin cancer, Dr. Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D. of the Boston University School of Medicine, recommends 10 minutes of sun exposure to your arms and legs, without sunscreen, three times each week. But this is still not enough; taking a supplement of 1,000 IU daily is necessary as well.

Because of vitamin D deficient diets on the part of nursing mothers, breastfed infants should receive supplements of 400 IU/day. Additionally, all infants and children who are not drinking one quart a day or more of vitamin D fortified formula or milk should take the supplements as well.

Diet is helpful, but coupled with sun-exposure, is still often not enough. Foods rich in this essential vitamin include:
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, cream, fortified yogurt)
  • Fish
  • Oysters
  • Fortified cereals
  • Mushrooms enriched with vitamin D
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Eggs

However you get your D, just make sure you and your children are getting enough of it to ward off the devasting effects of vitamin D deficiency.

Keeping it healthy,


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