Doctors have long known that the sunshine vitamin helps you develop strong bones and healthy teeth. But new research suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in treating gum disease and possibly even preventing it. A recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that patients who increased their levels of vitamin D and calcium had better overall oral health. Research also suggests that vitamin D may help prevent tooth loss.
As if that weren’t enough, high levels of vitamin D are also linked to a 30-50 percent lower risk of breast cancer, a 50 percent lower chance of developing colon cancer, and a 39 percent lower chance of dying from the disease if you do get it. In addition, research shows that people with high levels of vitamin D have a greater resistance to viruses, and get sick about half as often as those with low levels of the vitamin.
“It turns out that this nutrient is key to almost all body functions. Every cell in our bodies has a vitamin D receptor,” says Michael F. Holick, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center and author of The Vitamin D Solution. “We know that they must be there for a reason.”
One theory why vitamin D is so powerful is that it reduces the inflammation involved in many disorders, including gum disease. It also stimulates the production of cathelicidin, a natural antibiotic that helps fight infection and may fend off tooth decay.
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?
Most Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D, according to a 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. To find out if you are one of them, ask your doctor to test the vitamin D levels in your blood at your next checkup. If the result is below 20 nanograms per milliliter, you are deficient. In fact, many experts believe that your levels should be at least 30 ng/ml in order to get any of the protective benefits.
If it turns out your D levels are at least 30 ng/ml, Holick advises taking a supplement of 2,000 IU daily for adults and 1,000 IU for kids. (It doesn’t matter whether the label says D2 or D3.) If your levels are below 30 ng/ml, take 5,000 to 6,000 IU daily for a couple of months, then get tested.
In addition, get 10-15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen each day on your arms and legs — never your face. But limit it to that so you don’t increase your risk of skin cancer.
Some foods contain a little vitamin D too, which can help. That includes milk, cheese and salmon, which are also good for bone, tooth and gum health. But supplements and sunshine are still your best bet because these foods don’t contain enough D to meet your daily needs.