Get your Vitamin D

Research shows that Vitamin D can dramatically lower risk for chronic disease. But how much is enough and what is the best way to get it?

The sunshine vitamin is hot.

While Vitamin D has been long known to help prevent osteoporosis and tuberculosis, recent research has produced a seemingly endless list of other health benefits including reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression and heart disease.

To review just a few recent findings:

– People who took calcium and Vitamin D and had higher levels in their blood were 77 per cent less likely to develop cancer after the first year, compared to those who took placebos or only calcium, according to a study conducted at Creighton University in Nebraska. (Read more.)

– Canadian researchers found that Vitamin D can play a role in breast cancer recovery. The findings, released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, suggested that women who are deficient in Vitamin D at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to see the disease spread (94 per cent) or die from it (73 per cent).

– People with a Vitamin D deficiency could face up to twice the risk of a heart attack or stroke than those with higher levels of the vitamin. This is according to a Harvard Medical School study. (Read Vitamin D deficiency linked to increased heart risk.)

– Vitamin D may be linked to juvenile diabetes, according to a paper published in Diabetologia. Researchers found that the rate of diabetes tends to be low or even non-existent near the equator — and then rises steadily at progressively higher latitudes where for much of the year sunshine is too weak to allow children to produce Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. (Read the full media report.)

– Low levels of Vitamin D may also increase the risk of depression in older adults, Dutch researchers found.

– And according to a US study, people who took Vitamin D supplements had a 7 per cent reduction in mortality from all causes. (Source: The Washington Post.)

Too little of a good thing?

In light of these dramatic findings and the many possible health benefits of Vitamin D, nutrition experts say we are getting far too little of it.

In fact, anywhere from one-third to one-half of otherwise healthy middle-aged and older adults in developed countries are deficient in vitamin D, according to the Mayo Clinic. The deficiency is mostly attributed to lack of sun exposure, pigmented skin that prevents penetration of the sun’s rays and an inadequate intake of Vitamin D enriched foods.

But how to make sure you’re getting the right dose of Vitamin D? There appears to be no easy answer. If you ask Health Canada, for example, an adequate daily intake for people aged one to 50 is 200 International Units (IU). For ages 51-70, the recommended dose is 400 IU, and for people over 70, 600 IU.