Vitamin D has a very important job – it helps keep our bones strong by enhancing absorption of the minerals calcium and phosphorus. While it’s essential that we consume enough Vitamin D through food and supplements (the Institute of Medicine currently recommends 600 International Units (IU) a day for everyone under age 70, and 800 IU for adults over 70) to reduce our risk of bone pain and fractures, the sad truth is that most adults fall far short of these recommendations.
The bad news, if you want to call it that, is that a few of the reasons for low Vitamin D intake are beyond your control. First off, Vitamin D is not found naturally in very many foods. Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, there’s a good chance that it does not include high levels of naturally-occurring Vitamin D, since most people don’t consume the main food sources of the vitamin – yeast, fatty fish, and mushrooms – in large quantities or on a daily basis. Second, due strictly to the fact that you live in New England, you’re exposed to less-than-optimal levels of the best source of Vitamin D there is – the sun. Living in a northern latitude means less sun exposure throughout the year, especially in the winter. In addition, the sun’s rays are not as strong as they are in states down South, closer to the Equator. Since your body produces Vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight, the fact that you live in a place without a lot of high-quality sun, comparatively speaking, means that you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to naturally producing the vitamin. Studies have shown that for this reason, many New Englanders suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, especially during the winter months.
The news here isn’t all bad, however. There are ways you can beat the odds and increase your intake and absorption of Vitamin D. The first place to start is with your diet: Include as many naturally-occurring food sources of Vitamin D as you can, and supplement those with foods that have been fortified with the vitamin, like low-fat milk and orange juice. Next, aim to get as much sun exposure as is safe and possible (this shouldn’t be too hard with the nice weather we’ve been having lately). Experts recommend between 5-30 minutes of sun exposure to your face and arms at least twice a week for optimal Vitamin D production. Although I wouldn’t normally recommend you skip the sunscreen when playing outside, sunscreen actually blocks production of Vitamin D, so you want to try and avoid wearing it for a least a few minutes of sun-exposure time. Finally, if you’ve tried the above strategies and you believe your Vitamin D levels are still low, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D supplements can be effective in preventing deficiency, but can be harmful if taken in very high doses, so make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any supplementation regimen.