I know. You’re supposed to get your vitamins and minerals from your food, rather than pills.

Vitamins and mineralsBut ….

I live in Alaska. The only time I can get really fresh produce is in summer, from my own garden and the farmers’ market. The rest (most) of the year I have to get “fresh” produce that has traveled a loooong way, or frozen food. Being lazy (and suspecting that the frozen stuff may actually be more nutritious than the “fresh” food by the time it gets here) I all too often stick a frozen dinner in the microwave. I doubt seriously that I am getting all the vitamins and minerals I need in my food, so I take a variety of supplements.

Some are subject to a good deal of controversy; some, like Vitamin A, can actually be toxic in large quantities. But I got a surprise on one recently: Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is one that most people can make for themselves if they get enough sunshine on bare skin. Without sunblock. There are foods that have Vitamin D naturally, notably fish and the marine mammals that eat them. This is why the native population, eating a subsistence diet, can survive in Alaska. Believe me, we don’t get much sun on bare skin. Even at the height of summer the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky — about 45°, where I live.

I figured this out years ago. Problem was, at that time vitamin D as a supplement by itself was extremely hard to find. Most often it was combined with vitamin A, as in cod liver oil. Since I eat a lot of carrots I get plenty of vitamin A, and I didn’t want to risk toxicity by taking more — but you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find vitamin D by itself in those days. I finally found one store that carried it — and it went out of business. Then GNC opened a branch in Fairbanks, and I was able to get vitamin D from them. But the recommended dose was still just enough to prevent rickets.

Now all at once, or so it seems to me, vitamin D is being touted as a miracle pill, needed by the body for a lot of things never heard of in my day. I just knew I wasn’t getting much sunlight, and the light skin of people who’d lived many generations in northern climates was hard to make sense of unless vitamin D was pretty important. But I was still a little worried that my 2000 units a day (possible now without a handful of pills) might be too much.

Apparently it’s not.

Last week I went to the cancer doctor for a follow-up on my breast cancer. The check-up went fine, but he’s had me on Femara for about 4 years now. Apparently one of the possible side effects is reducing bone density, so I got a bone density scan and a blood test of vitamin D (important in keeping bone strong) as part of the check-up. I’ve been taking 2000 units of vitamin D a day for several years now, so I thought my blood vitamin D would be normal to high.

The bone density was a little low, but no lower than it was two years ago. Vitamin D — would you believe at the lowest end of normal? I was actually advised to increase my dose to 4000 units a day, and keep up the calcium supplements and the yogurt and cottage cheese that are a normal part of my diet. So this seems to be a supplement that is needed. Especially for us older folks.

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