Vitamin D: Winter's Essential Wonder Vitamin
What Can You Do?
The good news is that there are some simple strategies for keeping your vitamin D levels healthy all year long.
Head outside. Get 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily during the summer before you apply sunscreen. That's not hard: Walking the dog or unloading your groceries from the car should do the trick. Try to get sunlight exposure in winter, too, though you're more likely to need to up the vitamin D you get from food or supplements if you live in a Northern state.
Pop a supplement. Take a daily multivitamin or supplement that adds up to 800 IUs of D (doctors used to recommend the D3 form of the vitamin rather than D2, but recent research found they work equally well). Added to whatever D you get from your food and the sun, these pills should help raise your D level to where it should be (don't forget to count the D in any calcium pills you take). The safe upper limit for vitamin D is 2,000 IUs, so it's hard to take more than you need.
Know your D level. You can ask your doctor to measure it, but health insurance may not cover the $30 to $50 blood test if you don't have a valid medical reason for getting it, says endocrinologist Michael Kleerekoper, MD, a spokesman for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. If it turns out you have a mild deficiency, boosting your D intake with at least 1,000 IUs per day for several weeks should be enough. If your deficiency is more severe, your doctor may need to rule out other possible causes, such as celiac disease, before he or she can tackle the deficiency, says Dr. Kleerekoper. To raise Ellen Teplitz's D level, her doctor prescribed a weekly supplement containing 50,000 IUs of vitamin D. (Take such megadoses only under your doctor's supervision to avoid the risk of kidney problems.) Then Ellen switched to 50,000 IUs of D once a month, a dose she continues to take along with a multivitamin and a calcium supplement.