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Vitamin D: Myth Vs. Reality

I've been saying for years now, vitamin D is an extremely important nutrient and you must optimize your levels if you want to improve your health. Unfortunately, many Americans do not get enough vitamin D, largely because of experts' recommendations to avoid all sun exposure.

That's why I was so interested in this Slate feature piece about the basic questions it tried to answer about vitamin D:

  • What are the benefits?
  • How much do you need?
  • Why do you need sun exposure?

For the longest time, most people believed with the fortification of milk, instituted in the U.S. in the 1930s, and casual exposure to sunshine, they received all the vitamin D they needed. But a small resurgence of rickets in the last few years, particularly among African-American children, caught the health-care community off guard. The article also discussed the various diseases vitamin D can guard against, including various cancers, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

The article also discussed how much vitamin D you need in relation to where you get it. Most vitamin D researchers believe that a daily value closer to 800-1000 IU would be beneficial. But where do you get it and what's the right combination?

Most vitamin D experts also argue that moderate UVB exposure, without sunscreen, is a key part of achieving adequate blood levels (except for people with a history of skin cancer or with medical conditions that make them abnormally sensitive to sun). The main reason for this is simply a pragmatic one: It is difficult to eat enough salmon and drink enough milk to attain the amount of vitamin D recommended. But with the mercury present in fish and the pasteurization process that robs milk of the good bacteria is eating these products a good thing?

Only a small amount of casual sun exposure is needed to trigger enormous vitamin D production. Exact amounts are difficult to pinpoint since they depend on a person's skin type and age, as well as on latitude, season, time of day and amount of skin exposed.

In a related note, Oliver Gillie, former science writer for the Sunday Times, has recently written a an extensive piece on the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.

Slate August 24, 2004

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