You may have heard about vitamin D recently; the health benefits of this fat-soluble vitamin are becoming more and more well-known, and so are the dangers of vitamin D deficiency. You might be wondering whether you need to worry about supplements for you and for your kids. Here are some facts that you should know about:
- In many areas of the country, your natural vitamin D stores will be at their lowest level at the end of winter. The reason for this is that your skin will manufacture the vitamin in response to sun exposure during the summer, and your stores will gradually wane through the colder, darker months.
- You don’t only get vitamin D from the sun: It’s also available in fortified milk, as well as in fatty fish and eggs. Supplements are available, either by themselves or as part of a multi-vitamin.
- Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is possible to overdose. For this reason, you shouldn’t take supplements unless you are at risk of becoming deficient. While it’s not dangerous to take the recommended 600 IU each day, don’t go over that unless your doctor advises it. If you were to overdose over time, you might experience nausea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, confusion and kidney problems.
- Breast milk doesn’t contain vitamin D, so ask your breastfed baby’s pediatrician whether he should have supplements. Infants under one year old should be taking in 400 IU of vitamin D per day. Once your baby is a year old, his daily allowance is 600 IU.
- Vitamin D absorption and calcium are strongly linked. In order to absorb the amount of calcium required to stave off osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life, you should take the mineral along with your vitamin. This is easy to do if you are relying on milk to provide you with these necessary nutrients, as it contains adequate amounts of both.
- Kids age 9 to 18, particularly adolescent girls, are often deficient in vitamin D and calcium. Ask your teen’s pediatrician whether she should be taking supplements in addition to consuming enough milk.
- Don’t go crazy trying to get enough vitamin D from the sun. If you are Caucasian, as soon as your skin barely starts to turn pink, you have absorbed enough vitamin D. Sunscreen may block vitamin D absorption, so if you can spend 10 or 20 minutes outdoors, exposing your arms, legs and part of your torso, do it without sunscreen if you can do so without getting sunburned. Since sunburn is a very real danger, do this early or late in the day; you’ll get all of the benefits of the UV rays that help you make vitamin D without as much risk as you would take going out in the sun at noon.
Overall, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor before adding supplements to your vitamin regimen. If you are at risk of deficiency, ask about being tested to know what your levels are before adding supplements. Some risk factors include obesity, having Crohn’s disease, having dark skin and living in an area that does not receive much sunlight.