The much-anticipated report from the Institute of Medicine released in November, 2010 boosted the recommended daily value of vitamin D from 200 IUs (international units) to 600 IUs. Many doctors are surprised that the suggested intake wasn’t set even higher. Over the past year,blood tests for vitamin D have become standard with annual physicals, consumer have begun spending over $400 million per year on vitamin D supplements, and“sunshine vitamin” deficiency has made the headlines time and time again.
What exactly do we need so much vitamin D for? Because of its interaction with calcium, vitamin D is critical to the growth and maintenance of strong bones. Vitamin D deficiencies can also lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and depression. With rising concern over UV exposure, Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D the natural way – by spending time in the sun. The new standard suggests that we consume 600 IUs daily through the age of 70 and 800 IUs per day after that. If you spend very little
time outdoors, or live in a region where the sunlight is rarely intense, you may need to increase your vitamin D intake to as much as 4,000 IUs per day.
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. While you can get some vitamin D by eating fish, mushrooms, eggs, and meat, your best bet is to drink extra milk, which is fortified with 40 IUs of vitamin D per cup.
You can expect to see the effects of the new Institute of Medicine recommendations on food labels in the coming months. School lunch menus and any federally sponsored nutrition programs will also be redesigned.
Ultimately, the optimal level of vitamin D has yet to be determined. Some health groups advocate a 30 ng/mL level (as measured by blood tests), while the Institute of Medicine is only recommending 20 ng/mL. Some caution needs to be taken, as there are risks associated with extremely elevated vitamin D levels in the blood. At 50 ng/mL, there is a greater chance of developing pancreatic or prostate cancer, and kidney damage has been observed in those using supplements to reach a 10,000 IUs daily vitamin D level. The available data are simply inconclusive, and the Institute of Medicine is
waiting on several long-term studies before they reevaluate their nutritional
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