Vitamin D is a nutrient found in some foods that is needed for health and to maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium (one of bone’s main building blocks) from food and supplements. People who get too little vitamin D may develop soft, thin, and brittle bones, a condition known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body.
How much vitamin D do I need?
The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts from the Food and Nutrition Board (a national group of experts) for different ages are listed below in International Units (IU):
Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 400 IU
Children 1-13 years 600 IU
Teens 14-18 years 600 IU
Adults 19-70 years 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU
What are some effects of vitamin D on health?
Vitamin D is being studied for its possible connections to several diseases and medical problems, including diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Two of them discussed below are bone disorders and some types of cancer.
As they get older, millions of people (mostly women, but men too) develop, or are at risk of, osteoporosis, where bones become fragile and may fracture if one falls. It is one consequence of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D over the long term. Supplements of both vitamin D3 (at 700-800 IU/day) and calcium (500-1,200 mg/day) have been shown to reduce the risk of bone loss and fractures in elderly people aged 62-85 years. Men and women should talk with their health care providers about their needs for vitamin D (and calcium) as part of an overall plan to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Some studies suggest that vitamin D may protect against colon cancer and perhaps even cancers of the prostate and breast. But higher levels of vitamin D in the blood have also been linked to higher rates of pancreatic cancer. At this time, it’s too early to say whether low vitamin D status increases cancer risk and whether higher levels protect or even increase risk in some people.
Information taken from the Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health website http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/
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