Getting enough vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle health and to help prevent chronic disease as we age. This is relatively easy to achieve during summer through outside activities and sun exposure, but as we approach Cleveland’s fall and winter months, we may need to work a little harder to get the vitamin D we need.
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies, which are essential to building healthy bones and muscle. Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D is also found to help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, and support immune and brain health.
Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D – actually considered a hormone – when our skin is exposed to good sunlight. Experts consider sun exposure 15 minutes per day, three times a week, to be sufficient.
Individuals with darker skin, which reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D, or those who are lactose intolerant, obese or live in northern climates such as Cleveland, may need to supplement vitamin D. Keep in mind while measuring your sun exposure, that, while I always recommend sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, it does inhibit vitamin D production.
During the next few months, when our exposure to sunlight is limited, you can supplement vitamin D through the foods you eat or through nutritional supplements. A few foods, including cod liver oil, salmon, tuna and beef liver, contain vitamin D. Other foods, such as milk, cheeses, yogurt and cereal, are most often vitamin D fortified.
In healthy people, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D is 600 international units up to the age of 70 and 800 IU for those over 70. Be careful when reading a product’s food label.
Even with catching those winter moments in the sun and eating a vitamin D-rich diet, there are still some who will need further support through nutritional supplements. If you are experiencing fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness or cramps, or mood changes, you should consult with your doctor regarding the possibility of having your vitamin D level checked.
If blood test levels are low, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement. It is important to work with your doctor to determine the appropriate dose for your age level and individual health circumstance. While vitamin D deficiencies can affect our overall health, too much can also be life threatening.
Interestingly, you cannot get too much vitamin D from the sun because your body naturally regulates the amount of vitamin D produced by sun exposure. Nearly all cases of vitamin D toxicity are the result of too much vitamin D supplement. I recommend working with your physician before taking any nutritional supplement.
As Clevelanders, most of us enjoy this change of season as the leaves start to turn and we settle in on cold Sundays to cheer on this exciting Browns team. Just remember we might need to do a little extra the next six months to keep our bodies functioning well.
Dr. Matthew Levy writes about orthopedics for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and practices in Solon, Independence and downtown Cleveland.