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Are you getting your daily D?

You take a multivitamin, so you assume you’re getting enough vitamin D, the vitamin critical for bone health. But if you’re over age 50, your body’s less able to absorb and use vitamin D, and a deficiency could increase your risk for fractures.

Consider the answers to questions about vitamin D’s effect on your health.

What is vitamin D and why is it important?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in food and made by your body after sun exposure. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, keeps your bones and muscles strong and may boost your immune system and prevent certain cancers.

Who needs to worry about getting enough vitamin D?

You may not get enough vitamin D if you:

  • get limited sun exposure
  • don’t consume enough vitamin D–rich foods
  • are African-American or have dark skin
  • are over age 50

How much vitamin D do I need?

The Institute of Medicine recommends 400 IU a day for adults ages 51 to 69 and 600 IU for adults 70 and older. Warning: Consuming more than 2,000 IU of vitamin D could lead to digestive disturbances, confusion, abnormal heart rhythms and impaired kidney function.

Where can I get vitamin D?

A glass of fortified milk gives you 98 IU of vitamin D. Other good food sources are fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel and fortified cereals, margarine and orange juice. A tablespoon of cod liver oil provides a whopping 1,360 IU of vitamin D. Your body can form active vitamin D from 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight twice a week to the hands, arms, face or back without sunscreen—but don’t stay out any longer without applying protection.

How do I know whether I’m deficient?

Bone pain and muscle weakness may indicate a deficiency, but symptoms can be too subtle to tell. If you’re concerned, ask your healthcare provider about getting a blood test to measure vitamin D levels and find out whether you need a supplement.