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Vitamin D: Are You Getting Enough for Bone Health?

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Bone health and calcium go hand in hand. Chances are you know you need a certain amount of calcium to maintain healthy bones. But what you may not realize is just how important vitamin D is when it comes to protecting your bones.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from food, playing a role in forming and maintaining strong bones and promoting a healthy immune system and muscles.

Research has shown that people with low levels of vitamin D have lower bone mass, which increases their risk of osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease. Low levels of vitamin D also can weaken your muscles, further increasing your risk of falls and fractures.

In severe cases of vitamin D deficiency, children’s growth is delayed and they can develop bone deformities known as rickets. In adults, a similar condition can develop—osteomalacia, or a softening of the bones.

Sources of Vitamin D

You get vitamin D from three sources—the sun, food, and supplements.

Sun: Spending 10 to 15 minutes a day in the sun during the summer months, casually exposing your face, hands, and arms, will get you the vitamin D you need as the sun’s ultraviolet B rays makes vitamin D in your skin.

Food: You can also obtain vitamin D from foods, including fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel; egg yolk; and liver. Some foods like milk and cereals may may be fortified with vitamin D. Check the labels.

Supplements: If you’re not getting adequate amounts of vitamin D from nature (sun or food), your doctor may tell you to take supplements. Some people may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency: anyone with dark skin; older adults with reduced appetites and less opportunity to spend time outdoors; people who are obese or who have had gastric bypass surgery; and people with certain conditions, such as liver diseases. People who live in the north may also need supplements during the winter months.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance (RDA), as set in 2010, is:

  • 600 International Units daily for those 1-70 years of age
  • 800 IU daily for those 71 years and older
  • 600 IU daily for pregnant and lactating women

It’s possible to get too much vitamin D, however. A simple blood test can measure the amount of vitamin D in your bloodstream. If it turns out that you are deficient, you and your doctor can discuss ways to increase your vitamin D intake and put you on the road to healthy muscles and bones.

author name

Rebecca M. Shepherd, MD, FACP

Rebecca M. Shepherd, MD, FACP is a physician with Arthritis & Rheumatology. Dr. Shepherd’s areas of expertise include osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune disease.

Education: Medical School–Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Residency and fellowship–Washington University.

Call: 717-299-1301

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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