Vitamin D is essential to strong bones. Inadequate vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease.
Recently, researchers have found that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of other diseases. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource reports some new findings and guidelines on how much vitamin D is enough.
Fall prevention: With age, decreasing muscle strength can increase the risk of falls and bone fractures. Several studies have found that vitamin D supplements may benefit muscle strength and balance, helping older adults stay steadier on their feet.
Cancer prevention: Observational research indicates that low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of some cancers — including those of the breast, colon, rectum, ovary, kidney, lung and uterus. Although unclear why, vitamin D in adequate amounts appears to help regulate cellular growth, potentially preventing cells from becoming cancerous.
Chronic pain prevention: Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly recognized as an important cause of muscle pain and weakness.
Protection against autoimmune diseases: Evidence is mounting that vitamin D may offer protection from type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system. In one study, researchers found a 40 percent lower risk of multiple sclerosis in women who supplemented their diet each day with at least 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D.
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Some research indicates that lower vitamin D levels are associated with a number of factors that affect cardiovascular health, including coronary artery calcification and, possibly, congestive heart failure.
So, how much vitamin D is enough? Recommendations from medical groups vary, but a daily intake in the range of 800 to 1,000 IU is likely to benefit most adults. The body produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays, but many people need a supplement to reach recommended levels. Many multivitamins contain vitamin D. This nutrient also can be purchased alone or combined with calcium.