When I counsel patients for nutrition, if I find that there is a common interest in supplementation. Many people want to know what they should be taking and in what amounts to maintain or improve their general health. Though I do have many recommendations, one of the most common suggestions I make is to supplement with vitamin D. Through my schooling and reading the most recent research, vitamin D has appeared to be far more important than previously thought. Most people know vitamin D for it’s support of bone health, but what many people don’t realize is that if serves many other functions as well.
Alright, so vitamin D is a key component for supporting healthy bone. The reason for this is because vitamin D is required for the body to absorb calcium from food sources. If your vitamin D is low, then much of the calcium that you may be getting by whole food or even calcium supplements could be passing right through you with no benefit. So yes, people who are osteoporotic would benefit immensely from taking a vitamin D supplement. But, what about those who aren’t osteoporotic? A common misconception with supplements is that they are like medications. Supplements aren’t medications and shouldn’t be taken in the same way. Instead, supplements are most effective when taken for prevention as opposed to fixing a problem. That being said, supplement with vitamin D before you lose bone mass and you will find a much greater benefit. Trying to counteract the condition of osteoporosis is far more difficult than maintaining your health and preventing it in the future.
The benefit of vitamin D is not just about bone health. I have read article after article in the past five or so years discussing the benefits of vitamin D in preventing chronic illnesses, ranging from cancer to heart disease. The most interesting research I have read concerns the link between vitamin D deficiency and multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is known as an “auto-immune disease”, but does the body really decide to attack itself for no reason? My feeling is no. Here’s an interesting fact: The prevalence of MS increases as you move away from the equator. In fact, at the equator the prevalence of MS is almost, if not, zero. Considering this fact, one should stop and ask what is the difference between the regions closer to the equator and places like Maine? The major difference I determine is the amount of sunlight a person takes in throughout the year. For example, as Maine residents, we don’t take in nearly as much sun as someone who lives in Florida. This is a major reason vitamin D should be supplemented.
How much vitamin D is adequate for maintaining good health? My recommendation is a minimum of 1000 IU per day. However, I often make recommendations up to 5000 IU if an individual requires it. For example, a middle aged woman living in Maine in December would be a higher dose than a young man living in Maine in July. Whether you fall within either of these two categories or somewhere in between, I recommend a general daily supplement of vitamin D for health maintenance.