Vitamin D is kind of a big deal—are you getting all the vitamin D you really need?

Let the sunshine vitamin in

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Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies produce it in response to sunlight. Given valid concerns about skin cancer and premature aging, we tend to slather on sunscreen—which protects skin, but also limits the ability to produce vitamin D. This also limits the vitamin D benefits we absorb. “Most doctors recommend spending about 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen to give your body a chance to create its daily dose of vitamin D,” Michael Holick, MD, professor, and director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center says. You can also get it from milk and other types of dairy, and some breakfast cereals which are fortified with vitamin D. 

Healthier pregnancies for moms and babies

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Expecting moms with low blood levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are at higher risk for potentially fatal high blood pressure (preeclampsia), early delivery, and low birth weight babies. And it doesn’t stop there—moms who are deficient in D are also more likely to require a C-section delivery and are at greater risk for infections, says Dr. Holick. It’s crucial for moms to have enough because D receptors in the uterine muscle may strengthen contractions during labor, one of many vitamin D benefits. The vitamin may also boost immunity for mom and baby, he says. So how much vitamin D does a pregnant woman need? In one study, women who took high doses of vitamin D during pregnancy had a much lower risk of complications. Discuss with your doctor whether you could benefit from supplements.

Prevent obesity

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Another reason for expecting moms to get enough D: Researchers out of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California report that pregnant women who are deficient may actually program their babies to become obese as children and adults. Six-year-olds born to mothers with very low vitamin D levels during their first trimester had bigger waists than kids whose mothers had enough vitamin D. These kids also had 2 percent more body fat, the study showed. “These increases may not seem like much,” says study author Vaia Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, in a news release. However, “even a half-inch increase in waist circumference is a big deal, especially if you project this fat surplus across their lifespan.”