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Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

close up of woman's hands as she seasons salmon

Our bodies need vitamin D to help keep our bones healthy. Vitamin D helps children build strong bones and prevent the bone disease rickets. It helps adults avoid conditions including osteoporosis that weaken bones and can cause them to break.

In addition, some studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and a higher risk of colorectal cancer. However, other studies found no significant link. An editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November says “there remains considerable uncertainty about cancer prevention with supplementary vitamin D.”

It’s clear, however, that we need vitamin D to stay healthy. People can get vitamin D from their diet, from supplements, and from the sun. However, staying out in the sun without protection exposes people to harmful UV rays, which is a strong risk factor for most skin cancers. And getting too much vitamin D, for example, from taking very high doses of supplements, can be harmful.

A smart approach to Vitamin D

American Cancer Society epidemiologist Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, offers these tips:

  • Include vitamin-D-rich foods in your diet. These include fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sword fish, and tuna. Eggs and mushrooms also contain small amounts of vitamin D.
  • Milk, including soy and almond milk, is fortified with vitamin D. Some other dairy products, orange juice, and cereal also can have vitamin D added. Read labels to be sure.
  • People ages 1 to 70 should get the recommended daily allowance of 600 IU. Children younger than age 1 should get 400 IU, and adults older than age 70 should get 800 IU.
  • If you take a calcium supplement, you may already be getting added vitamin D. Some calcium supplements contain vitamin D.
  • Past studies on vitamin D and cancer risk do not suggest that high-dose supplements are needed and do not suggest that most people need to have their vitamin D levels checked. However, if you are concerned about your levels of vitamin D, check with your health care provider.
  • Do not skip using sunscreen or try other ways to get vitamin D from the sun. Sun exposure without protection raises your risk for skin cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.