As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month, my fair city had a total of 151 sunny days in 2011. That may be slightly more than most Pittsburghers imagined, given all the clouds and rain we “enjoy,” but the statistics aren’t really that good. With clouds more than half of the year, a lot of us – and for that matter, anyone who lives in a northern state – may very well have a deficiency of vitamin D, the nutrient your skin makes from contact with sunlight.
Other factors may put you at risk for this deficiency, too. If you have dark skin, stay indoors a lot because of mobility issues, have skin cancer, and/or slather on the sun block when you venture outside, you may not be getting adequate vitamin D.
If your doctor recently ordered blood work to check your levels of vitamin D, don’t dismiss it as another test you don’t need or can wait to get. We all need to take this nutrient seriously. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, as it works with calcium to improve bone density. But it also plays a role in prevention of chronic diseases like heart disease, MS, and some types of cancer, including colon, breast, prostate, ovarian and pancreatic.
Although the best source is sunlight, you can also get D from fortified dairy products, fatty fish like cod and herring, and fish liver oil. Given the dearth of good food sources, you may have to supplement to get the optimum amount. According to the National Institutes of Health, 200-600 IU daily is “adequate intake” for adults, but you may actually need 1,000 or 2,000 IU, depending on your health circumstances and history; check with your doctor.