New Report Says Most Americans Are Seriously Lacking Vitamin D—Here's How to Get More
You may need 10 times more than you're getting, it suggests.
As many doctors will tell you, a healthy diet that's rich in nutrients should stave off most vitamin deficiencies—no supplements needed. However, there are a handful of exceptions to the rule. In particular, a new report says that most Americans are deficient in vitamin D, typically produced in your skin upon exposure to sunshine. The problem is especially widespread during the winter months when we cover up in cold weather and only rarely catch rays.
Though supplements may help you get back to adequate levels, the report suggests that the current guidelines for vitamin D are sorely lacking. Wondering how to sidestep this common deficiency? Here's exactly what to do to avoid a problem.
A vitamin D deficiency can negatively affect bone, muscle, and heart health.
Vitamin D is important for the development and maintenance of strong bones. Because it helps your body absorb calcium, having adequate levels can ultimately help prevent osteoporosis. The vitamin is also essential to your muscle health, since calcium helps with muscle contraction, according to Cedars Sinai. Studies have shown that "vitamin D status correlates positively with muscle strength and postural stability."
Now, a new report presented at the American Heart Association's (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2023 says that vitamin D is especially important in individuals who may be at high risk for heart health problems. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with higher incidence of heart attack and stroke, other research corroborates.
Most people are vitamin D deficient, the new study says.
The AHA's study recruited 632 participants with a history of heart attack or other cardiovascular problems. They divided that group into two, giving the first group standard care while giving the second group higher levels of vitamin D supplements. They continued to administer the supplement in the second group until each individual reached 40 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter (ng/mL)—widely considered the optimal amount.
Ultimately, they learned that people needed far more of the vitamin to reach adequate levels than the standard of care suggests. While it is recommended that most children and adults need 600 IU of vitamin D, the researchers determined that 51 percent of the study subjects needed 5,000 to 8,000 IU to reach those levels. Fifteen percent of the participants needed even more—10,000 IU.
This could have major implications for your health.
The study is currently ongoing, but if the findings do confirm that reaching 40 ng/mL of vitamin D reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems, it could change the standard of care. In this event, "clinicians should be more proactive in testing and treating low vitamin D levels," study author Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist with Intermountain Health, told the New York Post.
However, it's also important to speak with your healthcare provider before increasing your intake significantly. "Taking a supplement that contains too much vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose people to painful kidney stones," writes Harvard Health Publishing.
Here's what to do.
The majority of your vitamin D intake should continue to come from the sun. On a bright summer day, you only need about 10 minutes of direct sun exposure to get enough. However, on a winter day, when the majority of your skin is covered, you may need up to two hours of sunshine on your face to get the same amount.
Your diet can also be an important source of vitamin D. Fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks, liver, mushrooms, and fortified milk, cereals, and juice can all help you reach the recommended amounts.
And, finally, supplements can help you avoid a vitamin D deficiency if your levels are low (your doctor can determine this with a blood test). Talk to your care team to discuss the risks and benefits of raising your levels, and make a plan that works for you.
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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.
- Source: Cedars Sinai, 5 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calcium
- Source: Effects of Vitamin D on Muscle Function and Performance
- Source: Vitamin D Supplementation and Major Cardiovascular Events
- Source: Harvard Health Publishing, Taking Too Much Vitamin D Can Cloud Its Benefits and Create Health Risks