Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin because your body produces it when your skin is exposed to sunlight, is getting its day in the sun. Why? New research suggests that it may protect against cancer, heart disease, depression, and diabetes illnesses that account for about 60 percent to 70 percent of American deaths. In fact, a recent review of 18 studies on vitamin D found that people who take supplements of this nutrient appear to have a lower risk of death from any cause over a follow-up period of six years. "Vitamin D is one of the most potent regulators of cellular growth, helping prevent cells from becoming malignant," explains Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and author of The UV Advantage.
Now that more and more doctors are becoming aware of this vitamin's benefits, yours may ask about your intake in order to prevent or treat a possible deficiency (which is three times more common in the winter than during sunnier seasons). And while you'll still need to slather on sunscreen, you may soon be advised to catch at least a few rays without protection; Holick suggests being outdoors sans sunscreen for about 10 to 15 minutes a day in spring, summer, and fall. When the government releases its updated USDA guidelines in 2010, they'll likely recommend a higher daily vitamin D intake for both men and women. In the meantime, Holick joins a host of nutritionists who advise premenopausal women to get no less than 1,000 IU of vitamin D five times the 200 IU currently recommended by the USDA. You can find higher amounts of vitamin D in some multivitamins, such as One-A-Day Women's.