Research suggests that the recommended level of the nutrient is too low for optimal health.

Vitamin D is in the news — again. This time it’s about a study that found that optimal levels of vitamin D for colon cancer prevention are higher than the current daily recommendation.

The report issued from leading researchers looked at data from 17 studies with more than 12,000 people across the United States, Europe and Asia. So what gives? For starters, the current recommendation of 600 international units (IU’s) was formulated by the Institute of Medicine and focused primarily on levels needed for bone health.

We have learned so much more about vitamin D and its wide-sweeping impact on overall health in the past few years that many of those in tune with the recent research are now saying the recommendation is too low. Why? Because almost every cell in our body has a receptor for vitamin D. Its influence on regulating hormones and other metabolic pathways, modulating the immune response and assisting with calcium absorption is extremely important.

In the aforementioned report, they found that those people — especially women — with higher than the recommended level of vitamin D in their blood had a 22 percent lower risk of getting colon cancer.

Colon cancer kills more than 50,000 people a year in the U.S. It is the third most common cancer and third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America.

Turns out men who were followed in another large study were twice as likely to have a heart attack, heart disease and cardiac death when their levels of vitamin D were low. In yet more studies, low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.

Understandably, this subject is now being hotly debated among scientists. We still do not have a consensus on how much more vitamin D is best, or where our blood levels should be, for optimal health and disease prevention.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, here’s what I recommend: Get as much vitamin D from food as you can. Focus on eating more important sources like dairy, fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines), fortified foods (cereals, orange juice) and mushrooms.

In addition, our bodies make vitamin D from sunlight — but that alone may not meet your body’s needs. Age-related decline in production, using sunblock to avoid skin cancer and dark skin limit our ability to make enough. The only way to know what your levels are in your body is to get a blood test.

Based on that level, meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist or your physician, who can help you determine how much vitamin D you may need to supplement. When taking the vitamin, be sure to consume healthy fat with it to maximize absorption.

We are just beginning to discover vitamin D’s multifaceted role in preventing disease and maintaining optimal health. Talk with your health-care provider about how you can find out more about your vitamin D levels.

First published in The Daily Herald