Aug. 3, 2009 -- Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and it has a lot of sunny benefits, but most Americans aren't getting them because they aren't getting enough of it.
Between 50 percent and 75 percent of Americans get suboptimal levels of vitamin D, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Now a committee at the Institute of Medicine is meeting to determine whether the recommended daily intake of vitamin D should be increased. ABC medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard came on "Good Morning America" today to offer five ways vitamin D can aid your health and tell you how to get more of it.
Why People Are Vitamin D Deficient
Nature gave us only one good source of vitamin D, and that is the sun. We are meant to absorb vitamin D from the sun through our skin.
When we lived closer to the equator and worked outdoors, we were OK. But that is not the case today. And food is not a good source of vitamin D, not even fortified food.
Five Ways Vitamin D Can Save Your Life
Promotes Weight Loss
You need vitamin D to effectively lose weight. Your insulin works better, and vitamin D helps you lose belly fat. Diabetes is also related to low vitamin D levels.
Reduces Risk of Death
Your overall mortality is reduced.
Fewer Bone Fractures
Without vitamin D, calcium can't be absorbed. But if you get enough vitamin D, it can help you avoid osteoporosis, bone fractures and falling, which is a cause of morbidity among the elderly.
Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Vitamin D improves blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.
Helps Fight Cancer
Vitamin D improves the functioning of your immune system, and that helps fight cancer.
Five Ways to Get Vitamin D
15 Minutes of Sun 3 Times Per Week
You can get 10-15 minutes of high-noon sun exposure in warmer climates a few times a week. In the South you can do this all year long; but in the North it will work only in the summer months. But this is unrealistic for those who already wear sunscreen all day, or have been warned to stay out of the sun by their doctors.
Fatty Fish and Cod Liver Oil
If you are one of those people who have been warned to stay out of the sun, another good natural source of vitamin D is fatty fish.
In food, vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish like salmon and in cod liver oil.
Fortified Dairy Products
You also can get vitamin D in fortified dairy products. But you need to be careful. There are only 100 units of vitamin D per cup, so kids and most adults would need at least four cups of dairy products per day.
You could drink four glasses of milk a day, but most people choose not to.
Most multivitamins have a substantial amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D Supplements
I recommend 1000 to 2000 international units of vitamin D supplements every day. It's cheap, there are no side effects or down sides. Although D3 is considered more potent and longer lasting, both D2 and D3 are acceptable.