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Am I getting enough vitamin D?

When Sharee Grazda told me that the April 2 9Healthfair this year will offer vitamin D testing, in addition to the regular blood panel work, I was delighted to hear it.

Recent studies on vitamin D and the prevention of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses have raised questions about whether the current recommended levels are high enough. Some experts content that to ward off disease, far more vitamin D is needed than what is recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board to maintain healthy bones.

John Cannell, executive director of the Vitamin D Council, an independent non-profit organization, is among those who say that adults should aim for 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day. The Food and Nutrition Board recommendations state that adults can safely take up to 2,000 IU a day, and that up to 1,000 IU a day is safe for children.

Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because sunlight triggers its production in the body. With the scare of potential skin cancer resulting from prolonged and excessive exposure to sunshine, many people go out of their way to avoid the sun.

It’s time to ask yourself, “Am I getting enough vitamin D?”

But getting that much vitamin D isn’t always easy. Sunlight helps deliver the vitamin, as ultraviolet B (UVB). These rays kick off production in the skin. But when you use sunscreen to block cancer-causing UV rays, you also hinder your skin’s ability to make vitamin D.

Even without sunscreen, dark-skinned people and those in northern latitudes probably don’t get enough exposure to UVB light to produce the recommended levels. Dietary sources of vitamin D are also scarce, with fatty fish — especially salmon — and cod liver oil among the best.

Vitamin D has been making headlines as new studies look at its potential to prevent illnesses. Two recent studies have shown a link between low levels of vitamin D and a higher risk for colon, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. Another study showed that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 62-percent higher risk of having a heart attack, heart failure or a stroke than people with higher levels of the vitamin.

Newer studies also indicate that vitamin D may improve muscle strength, mood and insulin sensitivity, and that it may act as a natural antibiotic. Vitamin D appears to have incredible potential.

Even so, some nutritionists urge a healthy dose of caution. Most recommend a food-first approach to vitamin D. Along with fortified milk, other foods, including orange juice and cereals, contain added vitamin D. One tablespoon of cod liver oil delivers a whopping 1,360 IU of vitamin D and a 3.5-ounce serving of salmon delivers 360. A 3-ounce can of tuna has 200 IU of vitamin D — tuna is good in sandwiches, salads, casseroles, wraps and straight out of a can. Another vitamin D powerhouse is Pacific oysters (3.5 ounces deliver 640 IU vitamin D), but, unfortunately, oysters, for me, taste like the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps I’ll just let more of the sunshine in.

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