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Healthy You

What's the Deal with Vitamin D?

Monday, November 13, 2017 9:00 AM

Vitamin D is a hot topic, both in the news and often in the examination room. So what’s the deal with vitamin D? Vitamin D is not truly a vitamin but a hormone that’s created by cells when skin is exposed to sunlight. It can help lower one’s risk of heart disease and cancer and promotes healthy bone growth. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of Americans are not only running low on this important vitamin but might even be deficient. 

As the days get shorter and we march ever closer to another Chicago-area winter, Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine, shares four good reasons to check your vitamin D levels and four ways to improve them: 

Why Is It Important? 

  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. If there is a deficiency of vitamin D and thus also a deficiency of calcium, the body will take calcium from its bones, weakening them and leaving them vulnerable to fractures. For kids and teens, it’s vital to bone growth and strength. In adults, vitamin D can help prevent osteomalacia, osteoporosis, bone pain and muscle weakness. 
  • Vitamin D improves energy level and mood. Vitamin D is a key component in brain development. Deficiencies have been linked to low energy and depressive symptoms. It can also help combat the symptoms of seasonal affect disorder (S.A.D.). 
  • Vitamin D could improve your health now and later. In studies, vitamin D has been shown to boost the immune system, leaving it in better shape to fight off infections. Studies have also found a positive correlation between sufficient vitamin D levels and lower incidences of cancer—colon, breast, prostate—and heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and potentially more.
  • Vitamin D may improve athletic performance. A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal concluded that low levels of vitamin D compromise fitness and energy levels. Athletes with higher levels of vitamin D were shown to perform at a higher level. 

How to Improve Levels:

  1. Sunlight is the best source. Don’t break out aluminum foil tri-fold and start tanning but it doesn’t hurt to get a little bit of sunshine each day. This is especially important for those in climates like ours, where there isn’t a lot of yearlong sunshine. 
  2. Take a supplement. A supplement can help restore levels that might be low due to limited exposure to sunshine. 
  3. Amend your diet. Fatty fish, including tuna, salmon, trout and mackerel, are high in vitamin D, as are egg yolks and cheeses. Some breakfast cereals are even fortified with vitamin D, so check labels.  
  4. Buy fortified dairy. Milk and even orange juice now come in fortified vitamin D varieties. Consider making the switch, especially in winter. 

Have you had your vitamin D levels checked?