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Published on January 08, 2016

Staying indoors in the winter requires a Vitamin D planStaying indoors in the winter requires a Vitamin D plan

Suffering from sunlight deficit? Then you should catch up on the ABCs of Vitamin D, especially in the winter when you spend most of the time indoors.

There’s a lot at stake if you don’t.

“Vitamin D plays a significant role in your overall health – from mental acuity to digestion to bone health,” explained Courtney Driscoll-Shea, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Cape Cod Healthcare. “It aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies and helps regulate our blood calcium levels.  Vitamin D deficiency can lead to hip fractures, osteoporosis and conditions such as rickets and osteomalacia.”

Two new studies have found that a Vitamin D deficiency also can impair mental functions in older adults and intensify the impact of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can significantly affect your quality of life.  Previous studies linking to some cancers are less definitive.

There are three basic ways to get your daily dose of Vitamin D, according to Driscoll:

  • Sunlight – Your body converts sunlight to vitamin D when it hits unprotected skin. As little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to prevent deficiencies. And that should be sufficient without sun block protection.
  • Food – Tuna, cheese and egg yolk are among the few foods with natural amounts of Vitamin D. Other products including milk, cereal, orange juice and yogurt are being fortified with vitamin D. Make sure to look at the nutrition label to see whether what you are buying is a good source of vitamin D.
  • Supplements – if you cannot get enough Vitamin D from sunlight and your diet, supplements are always another option. Those who may need extra vitamin D include the elderly, breastfed infants and people with dark skin. Some people with certain diseases may also need extra Vitamin D, including irritable bowel disease.  Be sure to check with your physician before starting a supplement.

Too little Vitamin D have also been found to affect the brain. In September, a study by Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences found that mental function among older adults may decline faster with low levels of Vitamin D.

Among more than 380 people the researchers followed for an average of five years, those with dementia had the lowest levels of Vitamin D.

“There is good evidence that Vitamin D gets into all cells of the body, including the brain,” said the study’s author, Joshua Miller. “So it’s possible that Vitamin D protects the brain from developing the plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Vitamin D levels were lower among those with dementia, compared with those with mild cognitive impairment and mentally normal participants, Miller’s team found.

During follow-up, the rates of decline in memory, thinking and problem-solving among those who were vitamin D-deficient and vitamin D-insufficient were larger than among those with adequate levels of vitamin D, the researchers found.

“Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that most people over 75 in the United States are Vitamin D-deficient,” Miller noted in the study, which appeared in JAMA Neurology.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for older adults is 600 to 800 IU, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More specifically:

vitamin d allowance

Rutgers’ Miller cautioned that there’s no proof that taking Vitamin D supplements will slow mental decline, as this study only showed an association between the two. “All we can say is that supplements might be helpful to you,” he said. “And the downside of taking supplements is very small.”

Cape Cod Healthcare’s Driscoll emphasized the importance of eating properly to compensate for the lack of sunshine during the winter months.

Here are some foods with their Vitamin D content:

vitamin d food

This article contains some information copyright EBSCO Information Services.