Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins and you are most likely deficient. Let me tell you more about it and 5 reasons you need it.
Our bodies are very good at taking what we eat and converting it into what we need. Heck, that is its main function: convert food into energy and sustain life. No yoga class or self-help book will get you out of this one. But do you need everything that is advertised for you? Walk into a grocery store or specialty supplement business and you will feel like you definitely need something in there, but what is up to discussion.
As a doctor, I have learned a lot about the biochemistry of nutrition. Over the years, this knowledge has been helpful to inform my patients about how things work in the body and how we can help improve the process. After ordering countless blood tests, I have noticed one level that is almost always low. That level is vitamin D.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin found in few food sources. Most notable are fish oil, eggs, mushrooms, and beef liver. It is also produced in our skin when exposed to UV light. Neither dietary nor sun derived vitamin D are active in the body until undergoing changes first in the liver, then in the kidneys. The vitamin is sub-optimally processed in persons with organ dysfunction or a darker skin color. Vitamin D works in the body as a hormone, meaning it alters our genetic material inside the core (nucleus) of the cell. Optimal levels are discussed and disputed, but a normal level is over 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/ml).
Vitamin D comes in may forms, but the two that we ingest are D2, especially found in mushrooms, and D3, from fatty fish, yolks, and beef liver. Commercially available D3 also can come from wool grease, known as lanolin, and is found in many creams and cosmetics.
1. Better Bone Health
Vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb and regulate calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is deposited into our bones and teeth, which strengthens them. Perhaps the most well known use for vitamin D is to prevent rickets (osteomalacia), which is a disease less well known to the developed world particularly due to supplementation. Rickets is a softening of the long bones which causes them to become brittle, bow, or in severe cases, break. Several studies in older adults revealed that low vitamin D levels correlated with a greater risk for fracture, especially the hip. This leads to increased risk of death.
2. Stronger Immunity
By strengthening the bodies innate defence mechanisms and weakening the adaptive response cascade, vitamin D is a double edged sword when it comes to immune health. Your body has cells called “natural killer” cells. These are always circulating in the body, helping to destroy cells that have changed for the worse. Yes, cancer cells are popping up in everyones body all the time, and natural killer cells take them out before they can proliferate. Vitamin D supports these cells and it essential for their optimal function. It also helps prevent over action of immune cells that could cause autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D and its role as an anti-inflammatory are being studied with implications in heart disease, diabetes, stroke, asthma, and cancer among others.
3. Increase Fertility
Since vitamin D works in the body as a hormone, it is not a surprise that it is essential to maintain the balance of other hormones. It reduces the circulating amount of estrogen and progesterone, which in excess, can cause difficulty with conception. Another example is women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Studies show that women deficient in vitamin D have more severe disease progression. Low vitamin D levels in the mother while pregnant increase the risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and low baby birthweight.
4. Reduce Depression
A recent study showed that otherwise healthy women with low vitamin D levels had more depressed thoughts and mood that women with normal levels. Low D equals low mood. Many experience this firsthand when winter arrives. Less sunlight affects mood negatively for many, an extreme version being Seasonal Affective Disorder.
5. More Energy
Vitamin D has been shown to increase overall energy. A study compared two groups, one with supplementation, and the other without. Then they were asked to cycle 20 min before the experiment started and then again after 4 weeks. The supplement group could cycle longer and at greater exertion with less effort than the control group. Vitamin D also helps to maintain a deeper, more restful sleep, which in turn will give you more energy throughout the day.
How much do you need a day?
General guidelines will tell you that 400 IU (10 mcg) is enough daily. The upper recommended allowance is 4000 IU (100 mcg). That is a 10-fold difference, so use your head. Everything in moderation, I say. Personally, I recommend 2000 IU (50 mcg) to the average adult, pregnant woman included. Children need a little less, under 1000 IU daily, though interesting, elderly need even more, 5000 IU daily.
How to get more vitamin D:
Vitamin D, being the sunshine vitamin, means you can get what you need through sun exposure. However, this has to be without sunscreen. It is widely accepted that 15 minutes of direct sun exposure to the face and hands is enough for a daily minimum of vitamin D. But what about dark winters, cloudy days, or a desk job that prevents you from good daylight exposure? Or the sunscreen we need to prevent skin cancer?
You can also get enough vitamin D from food. The daily minimum is not so hard, eat a portion of fatty fish daily or a teaspoon of fish oil, but that may not be enough so here are a few examples of getting 2000 IU in food. Fried, boiled, or baked foods usually retain 75% of baseline vitamin D.
- Salmon or Mackerel, cooked – 1 pound or 1/2 kg
- Egg Yolk, cooked – 100
- Beef Liver, cooked – 2.2 pounds or 1 kg
- Portobello mushrooms, grilled – 1 pound or 1/2 kg
- Milk, fortified – 20 cups
- Fish Oil, from bottle – 5 tsp
Yikes! That seems like a bit much even though you have all those choices! A tablet supplement is in my opinion the simplest option, though fish oil is not so bad when you start using it, especially lemon flavor. Fish oil will also give you added vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
These vitamin D drops are great, allergy free, and give back to charity. Norwegian Fish Oil has the added benefits of omega-3s and contains both vitamin A and D. Or you can try capsules, which are tiny and easy to swallow.
Now get to your health care provider, get tested for vitamin D, and get supplementing! Doctor’s orders.
Disclaimer: I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor. All opinions above are my own. Use your own judgement and speak with your doctor to get tested for a baseline Vitamin D level and or if you have any questions regarding supplementation. This post contains affiliate links.