A little over a decade ago, I decided to take control of my health. I began exercising and eating a fresh, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. I was feeling good—and looking better, too—but I wanted to know what was going on inside my body as a result of my health changes.

Well into my transformation, I also had a routine blood test. And that blood test determined that I was low in vitamin D.

Since vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin,” you might think I wasn’t getting enough sun exposure. But, during the time of the blood panel, I was getting plenty of direct sunlight. I live in Southern California, so I exercise outside year-round. Even though I do my best to practice sun safety, I still have plenty of bare skin exposure to sunlight—enough that I should not be deficient in D. For most people, around 10 to 15 minutes of exposure is adequate for the body to make enough vitamin D to support total wellness. I was getting that amount of exposure, and more. And yet I was deficient.

My story isn’t uncommon. In fact, according to research published in the journal Nutrition Research, over 40 percent of U.S. adults would benefit from higher levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D serves in a number of roles in the body, including supporting healthy metabolism. One of its chief functions is in helping support bone health by assisting the body in absorbing calcium.

The nutrient may also be important in supporting healthy blood pressure levels and the health of the endothelium. The endothelium lines 100,000 miles of blood vessels and produces Nitric Oxide, a critical molecule involved in regulating blood pressure and helping maintain cardiovascular wellness. A small study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that replacement of vitamin D in individuals who are deficient has favorable effects on endothelial function,which is an exciting finding for anyone looking to support endothelial health.

Since the nutrient is such an important part of total wellness, including the health of the cardiovascular system, I decided to start eating more foods rich in vitamin D, including salmon, tuna, cheese, egg yolk, and milk. But it can difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone, and my body wasn’t adequately processing the sunlight it was getting. So, I added a vitamin D supplement to my daily regimen. If you’re not eating enough vitamin D-rich foods, and especially if you live in an area that doesn’t allow you to get proper sun exposure all year long, you might consider supplementing, as well.

The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 600 international units (IU) for adults ages 19 to 70; the recommendation for adults over age 71 is 800 IU daily. Some products offer a combination, such as calcium and vitamin D, making it even easier to get important nutrients. Of course, a health care provider can help determine whether you should supplement and ensure you’re supplementing properly for your individual needs.

No matter how you go about getting enough vitamin D, make sure you do it. After raising my vitamin D intake, I noticed a difference in how I felt—and I bet you will, also. If you’re supplementing with vitamin D, have you seen a change in your overall wellness? Please share your experience with me in the comments.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21310306
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19584181
[3] http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/