Every vitamin and mineral plays an essential role in your health. Vitamin A supports your vision, the B vitamins keep up your energy and vitamin C helps your body heal.
Today though, let’s focus on vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a key ingredient supporting your overall well-being, helping your bones grow – and stay – strong. But did you know that it’s quite common for many people (especially in areas where winters are longer like Minnesota and Wisconsin) to have low vitamin D levels?
You probably have low vitamin D levels
It’s true. You get a good deal of your vitamin D through the sun: The light stimulates your body’s natural production of the vitamin, which in turn supports your metabolism and strengthens your bones. But many of us are inside at work, school or home for most of the day. And during our northerly-latitude winter, days are shorter and the sun’s angle in the sky stays low. That means we miss out on the benefits of sunlight.
Though we often associate vitamin D with dairy products like milk, natural sources of the vitamin are hard to come by. Much of the food you eat that does contain vitamin D (including milk) has actually been fortified with it since its presence in nature is so rare. So if you’re not regularly eating the right kinds of foods, it can be tough to maintain a diet that supplies the correct amount of this necessary vitamin.
But here’s another twist for you: Despite the potential for low vitamin D levels, there really isn’t any good reason for you or your doctor to routinely test or monitor them.
Let me explain.
You’re probably not vitamin D deficient
If you follow the news, you might have heard about vitamin D deficiency. This is when someone’s vitamin D levels are so low that they’re at heightened risk of developing health problems.
But the truth is that while many people do have low vitamin D levels (either through lack of sun or gaps in their diet), more than two dozen medical research studies suggest those vitamin D levels aren’t low enough, in most cases, to pose any serious health risks. Since this is the situation for almost everyone, testing your vitamin D levels rarely tells us anything useful about your health. Whether test results show you have regular, reduced or low vitamin D, our advice about how to get more won’t change.
That’s why our physicians and our health plan worked together to develop a new approach to vitamin D testing. This will help patients only get the tests they need and help reduce costs by not requesting tests when testing has not been associated with health improvements. So, like many other major insurance providers and as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, HealthPartners will no longer cover blood tests for vitamin D as a preventive benefit, starting September 1, 2019.
Of course, some conditions are associated with clinical vitamin D deficiency, such as osteoporosis, kidney disease, liver disease, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Vitamin D tests to diagnose or treat these or similar conditions are crucial to making sure you get the care you need, and in those cases HealthPartners will continue to cover them as a standard benefit.
But for most people in most situations, you don’t need to worry - these tips for how to get more vitamin D are enough to give you a healthy boost for healthy bones and metabolism:
How to get more vitamin D
1. Check your diet
Take a closer look at the foods you eat to make sure they include the right amount of vitamin D. As I mentioned above, milk contains a good amount of added vitamin D. But did you also know that a lot of seafood – like swordfish, salmon and tuna – has large quantities of vitamin D? And beyond your vitamin D intake, eating a balanced diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight that supports your total well-being.
2. Take a supplement
A multivitamin can provide the right daily dose of vitamin D, along with many other vitamins and minerals that build your overall health. Men and women may need different amounts of vitamin D, so check the label of your preferred multivitamin, and ask your doctor if you need help choosing one that’s right for you.
3. Get outside
Especially up here in The North, outdoor activities are both tons of fun and really great exercise. On top of that, they’ll also get you some much-needed time under the sun, encouraging your body to start making more vitamin D. However, too much sun can increase your risk of skin cancer. So protect your skin with sunscreen if you’re out in the sun for longer than 30 minutes. People with darker skin have more melanin which acts as a natural sun screen, so they may need to spend a little more time in the sun than lighter skinned people to produce the same amount of vitamin D. The best times for sunlight-driven vitamin D production are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Also, be sure to stay hydrated!
Whether you’re out at the lake in July, picking apples in September, skiing in January or biking in April, follow the above tips to lift your vitamin D levels all year long.