Benefits of vitamin D

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Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is important to your overall health and well-being. It’s primarily produced through exposure to direct sunlight. In fact, 50% to 90% of the vitamin D in your body is produced from the sun.1 Your cells have receptors that use the sunlight to convert a chemical in your skin into vitamin D. Amazing, right? Vitamin D aids in proper bone and heart health and supports the immune system.2 So go on and go to the beach! It’s doctor’s orders. But be sure to protect your skin while out in the sun to prevent skin cancer.

What vitamin D does for your body

Benefit 1: Healthy bones

Your body needs vitamin D to regulate and absorb calcium, which is necessary for strong bone health. Therefore, when your body is deficient in vitamin D, bones can become weak and improperly formed, causing osteoporosis in adults or rickets in children.3

Benefit 2: Cancer prevention

Vitamin D may slow the growth of some cancers. Observational studies have found that vitamin D may reduce the risk of breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. However, more research is necessary.4

Benefit 3: Immune system and heart health

There are cells in the immune system, heart, brain and lungs that all respond to vitamin D. When vitamin D is produced and used in the body, it goes to all of the cells that need it in order to function positively and contribute to a healthy organ. When there is a vitamin D deficiency, it can lead to heart failure, autoimmune disorders and more.5

How to get your vitamin D

Over 1 billion people have a vitamin D deficiency, but there are steps you can take to increase your intake of vitamin D. Direct sunlight is one of the best ways to get your vitamin D. Getting even 15–20 minutes a day in the sun may help your body get the vitamin D it needs. If you’re not able to get outdoors, you can also get it from some natural foods, vitamin-fortified foods or supplements. Some foods that have vitamin D include:6

  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel and sardines
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified foods, such as milk, cereal and orange juice

If these foods are not part of your everyday diet, there’s good news! Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means if your body creates an excess amount of the vitamin, the extra will be stored in your body fat and liver and can be used when you’re running low—typically during the winter months. Be careful not take too much vitamin D from supplements, however. While you can’t overdose from vitamin D produced by your body, you can overdose if you take too much in supplement form, causing you to absorb too much calcium and create calcium deposits, which can damage your heart and other organs.

Follow these daily guidelines when taking vitamin D:

  • Infants up to 12 months: 400 international units (IU)
  • Children and adults: 600 IU
  • Adults over age 70: 800 IU

Talk to a healthcare provider about vitamin D and what options may be right for you. If your doctor recommends a daily supplement, you may be able to use the over-the-counter (OTC) benefit that is part of some health plans. Find out more about Humana’s OTC benefit.

Sources:

  1. Zahid Naeem, “Vitamin D Deficiency—An Ignored Epidemic,” International Journal of Health Sciences 4, No. 1 (January 2010): V–VI.
  2. “Vitamin D,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed May 14, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-d/art-20363792.
  3. “Vitamin D.”
  4. “What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Vitamin D?,” Everyday Health, last accessed May 14, 2019, https://www.everydayhealth.com/vitamin-d/vitamin-d-health-benefits-what-it-can-cant-your-body/.
  5. Cynthia Aranow, “Vitamin D and the Immune System,” Journal of Investigative Medicine 59, No. 6 (August 2011), accessed May 14, 2019, doi: 10.231/JIM.0b013e31821b8755.
  6. Naeem, “Vitamin D Deficiency—An Ignored Epidemic.”
  7. “Does Vitamin D Accumulate in Your System?,” SFGate, last accessed May 14, 2019, https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/vitamin-d-accumulate-system-3103.html.