Lifewatch: Vitamin D

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For years we've been told to drink milk for stronger bones.

Now, there's more research suggesting vitamin D may also lower your risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The study in the Archives of Internal Medicine isn't new.  It is part of a growing body of evidence showing just how important vitamin D is to our health.

We know that Vitamin D prevents osteoporosis and brittle bones.  But now there is new evidence that it may also keep you alive.

Johns Hopkins researchers tracked more than 13,000 patients for 8 years.

"The people who had the lowest vitamin D levels back in 1988 to 1994 had a 26 percent higher chance of dying," said Dr. Michal Melamed, a former Johns Hopkins researcher.

Besides making bones stronger, vitamin D also affects the immune system.

"It can tell a cell either to grow or to not grow and it can tell immune cells whether to turn on or not turn on," said Dr. Melamed.

If you don't have enough vitamin D, those immune cells that prevent disease may not turn on.

While dairy products may be the most well-known source of vitamin D, scientists say most of us get all we need from the sun.

"Ten to fifteen minutes a day of direct sunlight can probably provide enough vitamin D to not be Vitamin D deficient," said Dr. Melamed.

People who spend most of their time indoors, the elderly, overweight adults, dark-skinned Americans, and breast fed babies face the highest risk.

Of course, any dermatologist will tell you that hanging out in the sun without sunscreen isn't healthy either.

You may wonder, won't sunscreen block vitamin D?  Yes, but experts say most of us use it so ineffectively, that we get plenty of vitamin D even with sunscreen.

Reported by Kristy Ondo