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Doctors Say Top Athletes Take Vitamin D And So Should You

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --  The football players playing in the Super Bowl this weekend are in top shape. Many are probably taking vitamin D supplements as they've become a superstar among athletes. Research shows vitamin D packs a powerful punch for everyone, and it has a variety of health benefits.

It's not just for your bones anymore. Experts say vitamin D can help improve your heart, boost the immune system and fight cancer. Now athletes, including many football players, have hopped on the vitamin D bandwagon.

Recent studies of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants show players with low vitamin D levels had more injuries, mainly broken bones.

The NFL is now planning to do a larger study covering 320 players to determine how vitamin D impacts performance and injuries. It's something athletes everywhere are now embracing. Clarissa Whiting is back to running for the Penn Track team, after suffering from a stress fracture in her foot. Blood tests showed the Denver native had low vitamin D levels.  "I came from an area where I got a lot of sunshine, and that helps with vitamin D. So coming here, it's a little bit darker in Philly," Clarissa said while laughing. "As athletes, it's common to hear of vitamin D getting very low."

The best source of vitamin D comes from the sun, but because of skin cancer concerns and different exposure rates, like having less sun in the winter, 50 to 70 percent of Americans have low levels of the vitamin.

"Vitamin D is very important in how dense your bone is and how strong it is," said Dr. Brian Sennett, the Chief of Sports Medicine at Penn Medicine. He also says the science on vitamin D is expanding beyond bone strength. "We know that we can run faster when we're on vitamin D trials. We know we can actually jump a little higher. We know we can actually lift a little stronger," Dr. Sennett said.

He also says most professional teams are now monitoring their athletes vitamin D levels for optimal performance and limiting injuries. "Low vitamin D levels have been correlated with an increased risk of getting stress fractures and then slower recovery times once you are injured," Dr. Sennett added.

Clarissa now takes vitamin D supplements and says her energy and endurance have both improved. "I feel better than I did when I came in, and that's very important for any athlete," Clarissa said. Doctors say vitamin D is good for everyone, not just for athletes. Some of the best food sources of vitamin D are salmon and milk. For supplements, it's recommended that people take anywhere from 600 to 2,000 units a day; anything more than 4,000 units can be harmful.

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