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Don't be D-ficient

Are you getting enough vitamin D? It's not uncommon to be deficient in this health-boosting vitamin, especially for those of us who live in northern climates like Minnesota.

We rely on vitamin D throughout our lives for strong, healthy bones. In children, vitamin D prevents rickets or soft bones. In older people, low vitamin D levels can lead to bone loss that increases the risk for fractures and soft bones that cause bone pain and muscle weakness.

In fact, nearly every cell in the body uses vitamin D in some way. If you don't get enough, you may feel fatigue, muscle pain, weakness, a deep achiness and difficulty walking. But the signs of vitamin D deficiency are not always obvious.

Ways to get more vitamin D

You can probably assume you are getting enough vitamin D if you drink milk daily. Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon contain high levels of vitamin D. Milk and many cereals, juices and soy beverages are fortified with it. In fact, food companies are putting it in more foods, so be sure to check food labels.

You can also get vitamin D from the sun. Your body produces it naturally after sun exposure. So try to get outdoors for three to 15 minutes of sun, without sunscreen, during the middle of the day.

Some people are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency, which is measured with a simple blood test. These groups include people who have problems absorbing nutrients from food, like those with celiac disease or who have had bariatric (weight loss) surgery, people with darker skin, and people taking anti-seizure medicine or steroids. Levels under 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) are considered below normal.

It's also important to know that you can take too much vitamin D. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so too much can be toxic. If you eat it in foods, don't go overboard with supplements.

How much do you need?

  • Guidelines recommend that healthy children and adults up to age 70 get 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily. That includes women who are pregnant and those who are breastfeeding.
  • People older than age 70 should get 800 IU.
  • Breastfed infants generally need a vitamin D supplement. Discuss this with your child's pediatrician.

For people deficient in vitamin D, supplements can help them get up to the recommended levels. The Endocrine Society recommends treating vitamin D deficiencies as follows:

  • Birth to 18 – take at least 1,000 IU  daily
  • Age 19 and older – take 1,500 mg to  2,000 IU daily

For those who are at risk for low vitamin D levels and having symptoms, please see your primary care provider. 


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