Vitamin D, “The Sunshine Vitamin”
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because it is manufactured by your skin when it is exposed to the UVB rays from the sun. It does not naturally occur in your body and must come from outside sources like the sun, food and supplements. According to the US National Center for Disease and Prevention about 67% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.
Why is Vitamin D so important?
There are many ways that vitamin D is crucial in your body.
Vitamin D helps calcium absorption. This is important for bone density and strength. This directly prevents against osteoporosis and fractures. If you have been told to take calcium, pair it with Vitamin D to make it more effective. Vitamin D helps the immune system to function properly. It regulates how you fight off the common cold and other viral or bacterial infections. Lower levels of vitamin D are being linked to cancers. Multiple researchers have concluded that optimized levels of vitamin D have been shown to decrease breast cancer risk by 40-50%. Adequate Vitamin D levels also play a role in promoting muscle strength, lean muscle mass, decreasing inflammation and helping with male and female reproductive health issues. I know that sounds like a lot but I have only touched the tip of the iceberg to the many health benefits of Vitamin D. Other benefits also include help with weight loss, improved sleep, more energy and a happier mood. What a power house of a vitamin it is!
How much vitamin D do you need?
It depends on who you ask. The USDA recommends a mere 600 IU per day for adults. On the other hand, the Vitamin D Council recommends up to 5000 IU per day. What do I say? First, I believe you need to have your blood levels of 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D tested. After that you can be more aggressive in your attempts to raise your levels. Normal values range from 30-100 ng/ml. Normal can be a tricky word though. If you get your levels tested and the doctor tells you your values are “normal”, ask what the number is. 30 may be in the normal range but you want your vitamin D level to be “optimal”, at a higher level. I suggest shooting for 50 or more. If you have cancer, heart disease or other chronic illnesses you may want to go towards a higher level of 70-80. How you get to those levels will depend on several different factors and that’s why it is good to look for a health care provider, dietitian or nutritional coach that will work with you on taking a proactive approach to reach optimal levels for you.
Best Sources for Vitamin D
- The Sun. Hands down the sun is the best way to get a daily dose of vitamin D. I do believe that sunscreen is important but it makes it harder for your body to produce the vitamin D. So I suggest to spend just 10-15 minutes of your time in the sun without sunscreen, then definitely step out of the sun and liberally apply sunscreen for the rest of your time outdoors. Have you ever noticed in the summer that you tend to eat less, have more energy and just seem to have a better attitude? This is mainly because you have naturally increased your exposure to the sun and made more vitamin D!
- Your Food. Not very many foods contain vitamin D naturally. The best sources are salmon, tuna, fish liver oils, Swiss cheese and egg yolks. Other foods are fortified with vitamin D. This means the vitamin D has been added to the foods to help you have additional sources to consume this vitamin. Those foods include milk, orange juice and yogurt. Typically only about 20% of your vitamin D comes from the food you eat.
- Supplements. There are a couple forms of vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) is either naturally supplied from plants or synthetically produced as a supplement. This supplement form is typically prescribed in a several thousand units dose to be taken just one time per week. Vitamin D2 is not the type of vitamin D produced by the sun. I don’t recommend choosing vitamin D2. You want to look for Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol). In studies, this form of vitamin D has shown to be 87% more potent in raising and maintaining blood levels of vitamin D than vitamin D2. It also is 500 times faster in converting vitamin D to an active form. If you are unsure of your Vitamin D levels you could safely start with 1000 IU per day in addition to sun exposure and vitamin D rich foods.
1. Get your vitamin D levels tested. You will need an order from your doctor.
2. 10-15 minutes of bare skin sun exposure per day. Do this while you are out on a walk for added benefit from the exercise!
3. Eat foods naturally or fortified with vitamin D.
4. Supplement with high quality Vitamin D3.
5. Monitor your blood levels of vitamin D at least one time per year. You may need to do this more often in the beginning as you work on initially raising your levels.
Here’s to your Health!