Most Americans don’t get enough vitamin D. And while it’s well-known that vitamin D deficiencies can lead to bone problems, a University of Missouri professor has also found a link to inflammation.

Healthy women with low vitamin D levels had higher concentrations of an inflammatory serum in a recent study conducted by Catherine Peterson, assistant professor in the university’s College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Peterson’s research could help understand how the vitamin can prevent and treat inflammatory diseases like heart disease, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Several studies have shown that Americans are not getting enough vitamin D and that the recommended levels are too low for optimum results.

These days people aren’t exposed as much to sunlight, the best source of vitamin D. Americans also don’t get enough of the vitamin in their diets, mostly because it isn’t readily found in food sources.

“The only substantial source is from vitamin D fortified milk, and many adults don’t drink milk for whatever reason,” Peterson said.

Almost all cells in the body respond to vitamin D, Peterson said, not just bone tissue as previously believed.

“We’re trying to figure out now what vitamin D levels a human needs to optimize all functions, and therein lies the debate among nutrition scientists,” she said.

The nonprofit Institute of Medicine has convened a committee to look into changing the recommendations for vitamin D intake. The standards were last updated in 1997 and recommend a daily intake of 200 IU (international units) for people younger than 50 and 400 IU for older folks.

“Most assuredly both the recommendations as well as the tolerable upper level will be increased,” said Peterson, who recommends daily vitamin D intake of 1,000 to 2,000 IU. Spending 10 minutes in the sunlight three days a week should be sufficient, she added.

Too much vitamin D can lead to elevated calcium levels in the blood, but the condition is rare.

In her latest work, Peterson is studying how vitamin D can help regulate blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-16-09 0932EDT

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