Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

By: Joy Hayes, Registered Dietitian

Vitamin D has certainly generated its share of media buzz over the past year. It’s been touted to help reduce your risk for many different conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is unique because our body is able to make it when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Just 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine three times weekly is enough to meet the body’s needs. For people in northern climates (like those of us in New Ulm) — or for those who are housebound or use sunscreen to protect their skin — it’s not always possible to get enough vitamin D from the sun alone. Some foods are good sources of vitamin D, including fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, or fortified foods including dairy products (milk and yogurt), cereals and orange juice. However, it’s difficult for us to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from just the foods we eat.

 

Vitamin D is known for its ability to help the body absorb calcium, aid in cell growth, improve immune function and reduce inflammation. Recent research is also finding that people who do not get enough vitamin D may have a higher risk of developing heart disease. In the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that those participants with low blood levels of vitamin D, (considered below 15 ng/mL; optimal is 30-80 ng/mL), were twice as likely to have a heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Even with the growing evidence suggesting a link between low blood levels of vitamin D and heart disease, it’s important to always talk to your health care provider before taking supplemental vitamin D.