The sunshine vitamin is looking brighter. This past week, scientists have found vitamin D can do more than form and maintain strong bones. According to new research, it may prevent diabetes, inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells and reduce the risk of children developing multiple sclerosis later in life. In addition, the vitamin has been linked to more muscle power in teen girls. With all these added benefits, looks like it’s time to load up on some D.
According to researchers from Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, getting the recommended dose of vitamin D may reduce the risk of developing diabetes and could prevent complications for those who are already diagnosed with the disease. In the study, the researches look at 3,000 people with type 1 diabetes and found a lower risk in disease of those who took D supplements.
In another study, a researcher from the New Jersey Medical School found D can stimulate a protein in the body, which in turn, can hinder the growth of breast cancer cells. And this is not the first study to link D with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Previous studies have linked vitamin D with a better diagnosis in patients with breast cancer.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of British Columbia have linked vitamin D with a genetic variant that influences the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease that results in the loss of myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. The findings reveal D deficiency during pregnancy and childhood could increase the risk of developing MS down the road. While the causes of MS remain unknown, researchers believe a lack of vitamin D in early life may prevent the thymus from killing cells which eventually attack the body and eliminate the protective myelin sheath.
Finally, another set of research coming out of the UK adds to the list of D benefits. Scientists at the University of Manchester found that girls ages 12 to 14 with elevated vitamin D levels were able to jump higher and faster with more power and force. According to the researchers, with the added muscle advantage, D is looking like more of a super nutrient.
Unfortunately, getting the recommended amount of D is not so easy. “There are not a lot of natural food sources,” says Katherine Zeratsky, a dietician with Mayo Clinic. Fish such as salmon and tuna along with dairy products like cheese contain some of the vitamin, but mostly we receive it through fortified food like milk, cereal, orange juice, yogurt and margarine. “We are meant to get vitamin D from the sun,” says Zeratsky. But with limited amounts of food sources and the threat of cancer through prolonged UV radiation (sunscreens limit the amount of D the body can absorb), many people are not getting enough.
Exactly how much D should you be getting? According to Zeratsky, the dosing is controversial. The current Institute of Medicine recommendation is 200 International Units (IU) for adults and 400 IU for children, but some dieticians believe adults could benefit from more than the recommended 200 IUs.
Many people suffer from subclinical deficiency, meaning there are no obvious symptoms signaling an insufficient amount of the vitamin. So, to make sure you are getting enough D, Zeratsky recommends taking a multivitamin, especially people living in cloudy climates or those who religiously wear sunscreen. “We need more research to decide what the optimal level of vitamin D really is, but in general, a multivitamin is a good idea as a safety net in addition to dietary sources,” says Zeratsky. Overdosing on vitamin D is possible, but not likely. According to the Institute of Medicine, the upper limit for intake is 2000 IUs. Still, if deciding to take a supplement, it is always best to consult a doctor.
The bottom line: whichever way you do it, soak it in.
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