Vitamin D has been called the new "wonder vitamin." Doctors are learning more and more about its role in good health and the prevention of diseases. Unfortunately, though, most teens don't get enough.
Vitamin D plays a part in the bone-building process by helping the body to absorb calcium. If someone doesn't get enough, it could affect the body's ability to build and maintain strong bones and teeth.
It's not just about bones, though. Vitamin D is needed for a healthy immune system — helping the body to fight off infections and prevent the development of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Research done in adults suggests that getting enough vitamin D may help lower the chances of developing heart disease, certain cancers, and other serious diseases like diabetes.
There are several reasons why people don't get enough vitamin D:
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that teens get 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day. Ask your doctor if you should take a daily multivitamin or vitamin D-only preparation that contains the 600 IU of vitamin D you need.
You may need even more than 600 IU if you have darker skin, live in areas with limited sunshine, have a condition that affects how well your body absorbs nutrients, or if tests show you have low vitamin D levels. Check with your doctor before taking higher doses, though. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it gets stored in the body. In rare cases extremely large doses could build up to dangerous levels.
The IOM recommends an upper limit — the highest daily intake that is likely to pose no risk — of 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day for teens. Most people who eat foods rich in vitamin D, who get normal sun exposure, and who take a 600 IU supplement will not get toxic buildup of vitamin D in their bodies. Problems with vitamin D toxicity happen when people take supplements with megadoses of the vitamin or lots of different supplements containing the vitamin.
As always, your doctor is the best advisor of what works for you!
As with all vitamins, it's best to get our D through the foods we eat. The best sources of vitamin D are:
Lots of other foods are fortified with vitamin D, including orange juice, soy milk, cereals, and bread. Read the nutrition facts label to see how much vitamin D is in each serving.