The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is not just for your bones! It’s also important for the health of your nerves, muscles, and immune system. Research suggests it can even help combat depression. Many Iowans have difficulty maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in the winter months, 40–75% of us being deficient.

It is recommended those up to the age of 70 years consume 600 International Units (IU) and those over the age of 70 consume 800 IU of vitamin D. We get vitamin D three ways: through our diet, our skin, and supplements. Yes, vitamin D is so important your body makes it with a little help from the sun!

In order to reach therapeutic levels described by research requires a supplement. You should always speak with your health care provider before taking any supplements. Eating vitamin D-rich foods during the winter months is especially important. Try these vitamin D-rich foods:

  • Fatty fish (e.g., tuna, wild salmon, sardines canned in oil; canned fish is just as good as fresh or frozen)
  • Eggs (yolk)*
  • Beef liver*
  • Fortified foods (e.g., milk [skim, 1%, 2%, or whole], yogurt, cereals, etc.)
Vitamin D rich foods including oil, butter, eggs, cheese, milk, fish

*If you avoid these foods because of the cholesterol content, don’t worry. A review of science revealed dietary cholesterol intake doesn’t significantly impact your cholesterol levels.

Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics (
Vitamin D: Finding a Balance—Harvard Health Publishing (

Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

Are You at Risk?

Thirty years ago, osteoporosis and the broken bones it caused were considered part of normal aging. Fortunately, today we know how to prevent osteoporosis. Eating a nutritious diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, in addition to regular exercise, can maintain our bone health and prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D plays two important roles in bone health. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption from the food we eat. Vitamin D also will “pull” calcium from our bones if we do not get enough calcium in our diet.

Recommended daily calcium intake for adults

Calcium (mg)
Males aged 18-70 1000
Males aged 70+ 1200
Females aged 18-50 1000
Females aged 50+ 1200

Good sources of calcium are low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese along with foods with added calcium such as orange juice, cereals, and breads.

Recommended daily intake for vitamin D

Vitamin D (IU)
Children-Adults aged 70 600
Adults aged 70+ 800

Natural sources of vitamin D include some kinds of fish (e.g., salmon, herring, mackerel, and tuna). Some foods and beverages, such as breakfast cereals, margarine, orange juice, and soy beverages are commonly fortified with this nutrient. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption in bones and to improve muscle strength.

  • Osteoporosis prevention should begin in childhood. Eighty-five percent of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and age 20 in boys. Plenty of physical activity during the preteen and teen years helps to increase bone mass and greatly reduces the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood.
  • Get regular exercise. Keep bones healthy through weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or weight lifting.
  • You may not know that you have osteoporosis until a strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break. You’re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones.

Get more information from the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Less Sunshine May Call for More Vitamin D

New research on vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” suggests that adequate vitamin D intake may lower the risk of colon cancer, heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, falls, and some autoimmune diseases. Researchers from Wake Forest University have recently found that higher amounts of vitamin D are needed to preserve muscle strength and physical function.

The newly released RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin D suggests 600 IU for those under the age of 70 and 800 IU for those over the age of 70. Vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to sunlight and in the food that we eat. Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and cod liver oils) is one of the few types of food that naturally contains vitamin D. Milk has vitamin D added during processing, and contains 100 IU per cup; all milk (skim, 1%, 2% and whole) contain the same vitamin D. If you don’t drink milk, choose orange juice fortified
with vitamin D.

Exposing your hands, face, and arms to direct sun for 5-15 minutes three times a week allows your skin to synthesize adequate vitamin D. Despite the increased RDA, additional exposure to sunlight is not recommended and use of sunscreen is still encouraged; the new RDA for vitamin D was based on minimal sun exposure.

Individuals living in the upper one-third of the United States can have difficulty maintaining adequate vitamin D in the winter months, and most
adults in those regions should consider a vitamin D supplement. Talk with your healthcare provider for specific guidance on vitamin D intake.

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