Got Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is produced naturally through sunlight synthesis on our skin. When I was little I never wore sunscreen and got much of this important nutrient through sun exposure. But since the mid 90’s I’ve avoided sunbathing (or any sun exposure) because I have melasma. I spend much of our time indoors and when we do venture out, we slather on the sunscreen and wear a hat.
Sun protection is good practice but SPF 15 sun lotion inhibits 99 percent of D synthesis. But the problem is that we won’t get adequate vitamin D from the sun. In one study of healthy Hawaiians with sun exposure of over 25 hours per week. 51 percent demonstrated insufficient blood levels of vitamin D. And in the past, the only vitamin deficiency I’ve had was vitamin D.
It’s also unlikely we can obtain enough Vitamin D from the diet:
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): Found in plant foods like mushrooms.
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): Found in animal foods like salmon, cod and egg yolks.
The best food sources, such as salmon and sardines, have come under suspicion (risk of toxicity from mercury or PCB). And for vegans like me, there are some commercial cereals and milk are D fortified. But it may take eating a LOT of these fortified foods to reach the daily recommended dosage of 400–800 IU (10–20 mcg).
All this, plus the fact that our intestinal lining must be healthy in order to properly absorb this fat-soluble nutrient. It’s no surprise that some of the most severe cases of D deficiency are found among food-allergic and celiac patients.
I am not a fan of supplements. I do only supplement vitamin D during the long winter months. From May until the end of October I soak up as much sunlight as I can so I can have a big enough supply to last all winter. But I supplement just to be safe.
Many people know that severe deficiency can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia (a bone disease) in adults. Yet more moderate deficiency is associated with infertility, autism, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, osteopenia, osteoporosis and at least 19 forms of cancer. Studies also link insufficient D to schizophrenia, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and certain types of chronic pain.
In addition, D deficiency leads to an imbalanced immune system. For some people, this results in allergy, eczema, and asthma. For others, it leads to autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
How do you know if you’re getting enough D?
A simple, inexpensive blood test is available from your doctor. Ask for a serum 25-OH vitamin D level. Normal levels range from 32 to 100 ng/m. Most healthcare professionals won’t intervene if your level is above 32. However, mounting evidence suggests that, for optimal health, levels should be between 50 and 70 ng/m. Most people can’t achieve this level without supplementation under physician supervision. A good start is taking 1000 to 3000 IUs of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) daily.
Vitamin D is available in tablets, capsules, and drops at most health food stores and pharmacies. Higher-dose capsules (4000 IU to 5000 IU) are often available from physicians and chiropractors that specialize in wellness and nutrition.
Research has shown that maternal supplementation with vitamin D reduces infant asthma and wheezing rates. Babies supplemented with vitamin D have a lower rate of developing adult-onset diabetes. One compelling study found that post-menopausal women supplementing with vitamin D over four years contracted 77 percent fewer cancers. The cancer prevention mechanism may be related to a stronger, healthier immune system.
The best and cheapest way to get vitamin D is from the sun, without any sunscreen protection. Without light, there is no health, and when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, vitamin D is formed from cholesterol derivative and absorbed into the circulatory system. The more pigment there is in the skin, the less of the vitamin is produced.
Adequate sun exposure increases the level of sex hormones and activates the hormone called solitrol. Solitrol is believed to be a form of vitamin D3 which works with melatnin to generate changes in the mood and circadian rhythms. The sun also balances the biorhythmic hormonal cycles of the body. Research done on people with vision-blocking cataracts shows many hormonal irregularities. Most, if not all, of these hormonal imbalances disappear when the cataracts that block the flow of sunlight into the eyes are removed.
We are human photocells whose ultimate biological nutrient is sunlight.Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi
The ideal daily sunshine exposure to ensure adequate vitamin D for proper calcium absorption is 20% of the skin exposed for thirty to sixty minutes a day. Sunshine through clouds is also effective but requires longer exposure. The best times are before 10 am and after 4 pm. Prolonged exposure at midday should be avoided, and the use of sunscreen is advised.
After absorption, vitamin D is transported to the liver for storage. Deposits are found in the skin, brain, spleen, and bones. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient necessary for proper calcium metabolism, cell reproduction, blood cell formation, and enhances the immune system. But the long-term impact on overall health is profound —and potentially devastating.
Here are some deficiency symptoms:
- bone pain
- bone fracture (from minor injury)
- loose teeth
- poor balance
- weak hip muscles
In conclusion, no matter how you choose to get your supply of vitamin D, make sure you are getting at least thirty to sixty minutes of sunshine early in the day or late afternoon. Enjoy the summer months while protecting your skin to over exposure. This way you make sure your vitamin D supply will last throughout Fall and Winter.