How Can I Get More Vitamin D?

Vitamin D advice for patients who want to increase their intake


You probably don’t spend your free time wondering whether you’re getting enough vitamin D in your daily diet. But you may want to reconsider.

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, told dailyRx News a little about the importance of vitamin D and why some patients aren’t getting enough. Dr. Steinbaum is the director of women’s heart health at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Dr. Steinbaum is also the co-founder of the Global Nutrition and Health Alliance (GNHA).

Why Do I Need Vitamin D?

According to Dr. Steinbaum, vitamin D helps to keep calcium and phosphorus at normal levels in the blood. This vitamin also assists in calcium absorption, which helps to create strong bones. Either by itself or with the aid of calcium, vitamin D can enhance bone health and reduce the risk of bone fractures. It may also safeguard against osteoporosis later in life.

“When it comes to bone health, we once thought it was all about calcium intake.” Dr. Steinbaum said. “However, as it turns out, vitamin D is critical in keeping bones firm and strong. Additionally, vitamin D has been associated with a healthy functioning immune system, heart health, and helping prevent certain cancers. On the other hand, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with cardiovascular disease and mortality, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.”

Children who are deficient in vitamin D may develop rickets (a disease in which their bones begin to weaken), while deficient adults are at risk of osteomalacia (a weakening of the muscles and bones).

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, about 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D.

Why Am I Not Getting Enough?

According to Dr. Steinbaum, people are meant to get their daily amount of vitamin D when their skin is exposed to sunlight. However, the amount a person gets from the sun can depend on many factors, such as time of day, proximity to the equator, skin color and the amount of skin exposed.

"While you don’t need to tan or burn to get vitamin D, we’ve all been trained to hide our skin from the sun or stay protected by sunscreen," Dr. Steinbaum said. “There is also some discrepancy about the absorption of vitamin D and how much vitamin D we are consuming. Most people are eating an insufficient amount and the degree of how much is actually absorbed is variable.”

Low vitamin D, according to Dr. Steinbaum, is a chronic problem in the US — particularly for those living in the northern half.

“That being said, as we age, our needs for certain vitamins, including vitamin D increase.” Dr. Steinbaum said. “While supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet, they can help us bridge important nutrient gaps. And as we age, we just might need a little bit extra.”

How Can I Increase My Intake?

There are a few different ways that patients can increase their vitamin D intake, such as getting more eggs, fish, cod liver oil, milk, cereals and orange juice in their diets.

“While fatty fish and some fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice and cereals, can be good sources of vitamin D, it is nearly impossible to get the amount your body needs through food alone.” Dr. Steinbaum said. “The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your skin to sunlight or ultraviolet B rays.”

Are There Alternatives to the Sun?

Dr. Steinbaum made it clear that food is not an adequate substitute for the vitamin D the body gets naturally from the sun's rays.

However, if you don’t spend enough time in the sun, your body has trouble absorbing the vitamin or you are worried about sun exposure, you can also get vitamin D by taking supplements.

According to Dr. Steinbaum, concerned patients can have their vitamin D levels checked by a doctor.

“If your levels are low, vitamin D supplements can help you get your proper daily dose,” Dr. Steinbaum said. “I recommend vitamin D-3 because it is the most bio-absorbable.”

Dr. Steinbaum also advised patients to speak with their doctors about the right dosage for them, and get their levels checked regularly.

“The reality is, most people simply aren’t outside enough or in the right conditions to get enough sun exposure and sufficiently affect vitamin D levels,” Dr. Steinbaum said.

For those who are, however, it's important to stay protected from hazardous levels of ultraviolet radiation, which may cause cancer. Patients can take simple precautions such as wearing sunscreen and not staying out in the sun too long.

“As I educate my patients about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, I always recommend that they know their numbers," Dr. Steinbaum said. "When it comes to vitamin D, I recommend getting your levels checked through a simple blood test and, if your levels are low, take a supplement.”