How to get enough vitamin D for brain health

3 min read
September 22, 2022

What is vitamin D and how much do I need?

Many have heard of vitamin D, but did you know that it is stored in body fat and is important for bone and overall health? It is estimated that 1 billion people around the world are lacking vitamin D it and recent studies show there may be an association between not having enough vitamin D and brain health issues. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, children and young adults ages 1-18 should take in 600 international units (IUs) daily to avoid being deficient. Adults younger than 65 years old without year-round sun exposure should take in 600-800 IUs daily, while adults over 65 years should take in 800-1,000 IUs to reduce the risk of bone fractures.

What does a certain amount of IUs look like in terms of food? A cooked 3-ounce sockeye salmon filet will provide 570 IUs while a cup of fortified dairy or plant milk will provide about 120 IUs.

Why is vitamin D important for brain health?

A lack of vitamin D is found to be more common in people with some brain health issues and may play a role in triggering such issues, while taking enough can help certain brain health symptoms.

Low levels of vitamin D appear in, but have not been proven to cause, cases of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and autism.

How can I get enough vitamin D?

Foods: Foods that naturally contain vitamin D include fatty fish (such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel), fish liver oils, beef liver, egg yolks, and mushrooms. In the United States, foods with added vitamins like milk, plant and nut milks, orange juice, yogurt, cheese, and cereal provide most of the vitamin D consumed. Not a fan of those foods or have dietary restrictions which limit foods rich in vitamin D? There are two other ways the body can get vitamin D. 

Sun: Many people worldwide meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through sun exposure, though the amount can vary depending on the season, time of day, length outside, weather, and sunscreen use. Older people, people with darker skin, and those who wear sunscreen regularly are less able to produce vitamin D from sunlight. Since the UV rays needed to make vitamin D do not penetrate glass, sitting indoors, even by a window, does not count. 20 minutes of daily sunshine with over 40% of skin exposed is needed to prevent deficiency.

Supplements: According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), most people in the United States consume less than the recommended amounts of vitamin D. Consider talking with your doctor about how to ensure healthy levels of vitamin D, and if taking a supplement is right for you. Your doctor can also let you know if getting your levels checked is a good choice for you, especially if you are living with a brain health issue, have any other health issues, or have a history in your family.

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