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Do You Get Enough Vitamin D?

CancerWise - January 2009

You probably know calcium is essential for bone health, but did you know vitamin D is calcium’s right-hand man?

Research has shown you don’t build strong bones with calcium alone. Vitamin D is necessary to help your body absorb and use the calcium you consume. Deficiency can lead to bone disorders such as rickets and osteoporosis.

Studies are underway to understand some of the vitamin’s additional roles.

It may play a part in:

  • Breast and colon cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Weight gain
  • Diabetes
  • Immune system function

Examine your intake

Vitamin D recommendations call for daily intakes of:

  • 200 international units (IUs) up to age 50
  • 400 IUs ages 51 to 70
  • 600 IUs over age 70

As people age, their skin produces less vitamin D, raising requirements from outside sources.

Sources for vitamin D include:

  • The sun
  • Certain foods, including:
    • Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon
    • Fortified milk
    • Butter and eggs
    • Fish liver oils
  • Supplements

Vitamin D in diet can be difficult

It can be hard to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, and sunshine may be the best source. However, as more people take steps to reduce sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency has become a real concern.

Your body makes plenty of vitamin D if you spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun a day.

However, you may want to consider a supplement if you:

  • Live in a northern location where the sun is less intense
  • Don’t venture outdoors often
  • Are at high risk for skin cancer

Although vitamin D has few if any side effects for most people, it can interact with medications for certain conditions, including high blood pressure and heart problems. Check with your health care provider before adding supplements to your diet.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center