Mention Alaska, and for many people, the first mental picture may be of a snowy wilderness. While that’s true part of the year, there are also long days of summer sunlight. Unlike those who live in more southerly areas, however, summer sunlight in Alaska doesn’t have a big effect on your vitamin D levels. Here’s why that matters – courtesy of the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is vitally important to your overall health. Sure, it has a long-standing reputation where healthy teeth and bones are concerned. Vitamin D is vital for promoting calcium absorption and keeping your teeth and bones strong. Especially as you get older, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia (bone softening) or outright osteoporosis, in which your bones become thin and brittle. But Vitamin D also plays a role in preventing muscle and bone pain, high blood pressure, some cancers, diabetes and heart disease, as well as immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The federal government has issued some specific guidelines for vitamin D intake. Currently those are:
Up to age 50 – 200 IU per day
Age 51 to 70 – 400 IU per day
Over age 70 – 600 IU per day
Many researchers in the field think those levels are too low, according to a WebMD article, and recommend 1,000 IU per day for adults in order to achieve optimum blood levels. The upper limit should be 2,000 IU/day. Getting even 200 IU a day can be a challenge, however, if you’re relying on diet alone. Many foods that contain vitamin D have relatively low levels, and even though it’s well-absorbed, you won’t get the entire amount contained in the food.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
Many foods have little to no vitamin D. Although fortified milk is a good source – about 100 IUs per eight-ounce glass – lactose intolerance is relatively common among older adults, who may not be drinking milk at all. Salmon is an excellent source, with about 425 IU in a three-ounce serving. Sardines are also a good choice. Other vitamin D foods that are fortified include yogurt, breakfast cereals, margarine and orange juice.
Vitamin D got the nickname “sunshine vitamin” because your skin manufactures it when exposed to sunlight. The kicker is that in winter, for anyone who lives very far above 40 degrees north latitude (that’s definitely us Alaskans!), winter sunlight isn’t going to be much help. And even in summer, the increased hours of sunlight we do get isn’t strong enough to make up for the winter deficit. While you should still get outside, full-spectrum lights are an excellent solution that can help you keep your vitamin D levels up and your bones healthy.
At the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska, we’re all about healthy bones and keeping the rest of your musculoskeletal system in great shape. Please contact us for questions or concerns, or to schedule an appointment if you think there’s a problem.