I've recently been doing some research into the benefits of vitamin D. Specifically, vitamin D and it's relation to the immune system in hopes of keeping our family healthy during the upcoming cold and flu season. This is some information that I learned from various places during my research.
As many as 1 in 2 individuals in North America are vitamin D deficient. [source]
"Humans make 90 percent of our vitamin D naturally from sunlight exposure to our skin – specifically, from ultraviolet B exposure to the skin, which naturally initiates the conversion of cholesterol in the skin to vitamin D3" [source]
The only vitamin that humans bodies can make on their own is vitamin D.
Vitamin D is stored in our bodies.
The most effective way to obtain vitamin D is through 10-15 minutes of daily sun exposure. This involves bare arm and leg exposure to the sun when it is highest in the sky. However, this poses a problem for obvious reasons during the cold weather months.
Vitamin D naturally occurs in very few foods including oily fish and eggs to a lesser amount. Vitamin D can also be obtained to some degree through fortified dairy products. However, in order to obtain the daily recommended amount of vitamin D via fortified milk an adult will need to consume 50 8 oz. servings. [source]
"Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more." [source]
"Studies over the past few years show vitamin D can prevent (and often treat) cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, depression, asthma, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and many other conditions. In fact, high levels of Vitamin D have been linked to a reduction of death from any cause. (The nutrient has such a wide ranging effect, says Dr. Cannell [President of the Vitamin D Council], because it targets more than 2,000 genes -- 10 percent of the human genome.)" [source]
Based on recent research, the medical community is beginning to believe that lowered vitamin D levels during the cold weather months may be a cause of the annual cold and flu season. In fact, maintaining proper levels of vitamin D may better protect us from cold and flu season than getting a flu shot as vitamin D strengthens our immune systems against ALL viruses versus the 2 that we are inoculated against with an annual flu shot (this year the shot contains H1N1 and whatever other seasonal strain they are anticipating. There are other flu strains out there as well as the common cold, which spreads like wildfire this time of year!).
HERE is a great article which goes into detail on how vitamin D controls your immune system.
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
The Vitamin D Council recommends adults take a vitamin D supplement in the amount of 5,000 IU per day. The best kind of vitamin D supplements also contain magnesium and zinc as the body needs these minerals in order to properly utilized stored vitamin D.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily value of 400 IU of vitamin D per day for infants, children, and adolescents.
Formula-fed babies should get the recommended daily amount of vitamin D from their formula. Check your specific brand, but the formula that we use (currently Target's Up & Up brand) contains 50 IU of vitamin D per 5-ounce serving. So, as long as Jack eats 40-ounces of formula per day (between 6 and 7 bottles as he usually takes 6-ounces at a time) he should maintain proper stores of vitamin D.
The AAP currently recommends that breastfed babies be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D per day due to deficiencies in the maternal diet. They do not comment on if supplementation is still necessary for the baby if the mother is getting adequate vitamin D through taking her own supplements. Definitely discuss with your pediatrician before giving your baby anything!
Older children consuming less than 1 quart of vitamin D fortified milk per day should be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D per day.
I definitely plan to start taking a vitamin D supplement in hopes of warding off the seasonal yuckies this year and to maintain proper vitamin D levels throughout. From the research I've done, it is my opinion that the medical community may be just beginning to understand the importance of vitamin D to our health in relation to many diseases and ailments and taking a few pills a day seems like an easy thing to do for so many benefits.