Most people probably learned as children about vitamin D’s beneficial effects from mom or dad urging them to eat a healthy diet so they could grow big and strong. But fewer are aware of the finer points like specific foods containing it, how the body gets it and what happens when you eat too much of it. So in the spirit of nutritional education, here are five things you may not know.
The Big “D”
Your body gets most of the vitamin D it needs by absorbing it through the skin from the sun, which may be why your parents told you to go outside and play. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. According to WebMD, the “superfoods” containing it are wild mackerel and salmon, and mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light. Other vitamin D-rich foods include canned tuna in water, canned sardines in oil, cod liver oil and cheese.
It’s easy to find foods that have vitamin D artificially added, like milk, orange juice and most breakfast cereals, but just how much sunlight do you need to soak up to get what your body needs? Just six days in the sun can make up for 49 days without sun. Your own body fat stores up the vitamin for later, releasing it as needed when no sunlight is available. With that in mind, seniors who spend less time in the sun, those living up north, and dark-skinned people need vitamin D supplements.
Take with Caution
If you’re basically healthy, taking vitamin D in the prescribed dosage is perfectly safe. Taking too much is toxic, and could cause side effects like:
- Frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor appetite
If you have hardening of the arteries or your blood has high calcium levels, vitamin D could aggravate the condition. The vitamin raises the calcium level in patients with histoplasmosis, which could lead to kidney stones. It could also cause problems in patients with overactive parathyroid glands.
More Health Warnings
There are a few more caveats to keep in mind when taking vitamin D when you have health issues. If you have kidney disease, antacid tablets, which contain aluminum, could trigger a drug interaction unless you time when you take your vitamin D. Specific drugs that could interact include Dovonex, Lanoxin, Tagamet and even water pills. To avoid the risk of irregular heartbeats, problems with blood clotting, too much calcium in your body or other health risks, consult your doctor if you have questions.
A Balanced Perspective
This little vitamin can make a big difference when using herbs and supplements to treat serious medical conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, the ingredients and their proportions in over the counter tablets containing vitamin D may vary from one brand to another. But according to scientific research and traditional use, the proper dosage has been known to treat:
- Autoimmune disease
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Mood disorders
This isn’t to say to depend entirely on alternative medicine. But early man must’ve been on to something when he discovered the medicinal and healing powers of vitamins.
The next time you’re at the health food store and you spot the Vitamin D on the shelf, remember that it has its pros and cons. Whether you should dose up on it could depend on your physical health and medical history. Making an informed decision on its potential benefits before swallowing is wise.