Getting that sunny D


Photo by Runar Thorvaldsen

My doctor shocked me when he told me after a blood test this summer that my vitamin D levels were low. I didn’t even know that was something that doctors tested for. He prescribed a weekly dose of 50,000 IU for me, but I never filled it. It’s just a vitamin, I told myself, no big deal. I already take vitamins and try to eat a varied diet.

I looked up food sources for the vitamin and figured that I would be fine with my regular consumption of oily fish and exposure to sunshine. When I went back a couple of months later for a follow-up, the doctor was not happy with me. So I was a good little patient and have been taking it ever since.

It turns out that vitamin D helps keep bones strong — that’s what it’s best known for. More debatably, it helps with certain types of cancer (this has not been tested on humans), diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and multiple sclerosis. It’s also said to fight inflammation, aid the immune system and modulate cell growth. One friend who takes it at his doctor’s recommendation tells me it improves his mood in the darker months.

Lately this wonder vitamin has been shoved into the spotlight, with lots of media attention coming in the form of books with names like The Vitamin D Solution, The Vitamin D Revolution, The Vitamin D Cure, Vitamin D: Is This the Miracle Vitamin?, Vitamin D Diet Benefits and The 7-Day Slim Down: Drop Twice the Weight in Half the Time with the Vitamin D Diet.

Whether it’s a miracle substance or not, the so-called “sunshine vitamin” is not a vitamin at all, but a prohormone that our bodies make themselves with the help of sunlight exposure. In cahoots with calcium, it keeps kids from getting rickets and adults from osteomalacia, or bone softening.

Although supplements and oily fish are reliable sources, most of us get our D from time spent outdoors and what is added to milk and some other foods by manufacturers. In modern times we are spending less time in the sun that at any other time in human history. Between our plugged-in lives and media-fueled fear of sunlight, many of us get less of this warm and beneficial stuff than we should. And it’s of more concern during the winter, with fewer hours of daylight and cold temps that keep us indoors huddling for warmth.

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