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Vitamin D: How and Why to Take It

Updated on September 23, 2012

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body needs in order to absorb calcium for strong teeth and bones and to help prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also necessary for proper blood clotting, the functioning of the nervous system, and for maintaining the thyroid gland.

The body can process D naturally by exposure to sunlight, but with all the recent scares about skin cancer, many doctors worry that people are not getting enough vitamin D. Most sunscreens decrease absorption by as much as 95%, leaving many with a vitamin D deficiency. In addition, people with dark complexions do not synthesize as much of the vitamin as those with fairer skin.

In regions with long, cold winters where people rarely go outside, and in areas where there is little sunlight during the winter months, many inhabitants suffer from seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD. For years, doctors thought that the condition was the direct result of the lack of outdoor light and treated symptoms with light therapy. The latest studies, however, show that vitamin D therapy provides better results than the light therapy.

In addition, very few foods have sufficient quantities of the vitamin, either, unless they’ve been fortified. One of the few foods that is naturally rich in vitamin D is fish liver oil, which is not widely consumed. Even human breast milk is not an adequate source of D. A good example of a food to which vitamin D is usually added is milk. Since the D helps with the absorption of calcium, these two naturally go hand in hand.

Recent studies are discovering more and more benefits of vitamin D. It’s beneficial in lowering the risk of prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers, and in decreasing inflammation in the body.

Vitamin D is often used in the treatment of leukemia, psoriasis, hypoparathyroidism, and some renal conditions. It also stimulates insulin production in the pancreas and decreases the risk of autoimmune disorders, along with lowering blood pressure.

How much do you need? Adults under the age of 50 need 5 micrograms per day, and both men and women between 51 and 70 need 10 micrograms daily. The daily requirement for senior citizens over the age of 71 is 15 micrograms.

How can you help your body absorb enough vitamin D? Never take mineral oil or stimulant laxatives near the same time you take your D supplement. Many antacids can also block absorption of vitamin D. Also, some medications can inhibit the uptake of vitamin D, especially corticosteroids like cortisone. Other drugs that inhibit the absorption of vitamin D include anti-seizure drugs, cholestyramine, Orlistat, and colestipol.

Since vitamin D is fat soluble, you should take it with a small meal that contains some fat.


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