Vitamin D – What It Is and Why You Need It
The importance of vitamin D really cannot be overstressed. Your body needs it for a variety of functions so that a deficiency can cause some serious health conditions.
Nevertheless, researchers estimate that 50% of the U.S. population does not get enough vitamin D. However, vitamin D deficiency in Canada and Australia is not too far behind with 32% and over 30% of those populations affected, respectively.
Fortunately, simple changes in your diet and lifestyle can actively support your vitamin D level. First, it may help to understand what vitamin D is and why exactly you need it.
Understanding Vitamin D
Vitamin D is much more than a vitamin! It is also a hormone, meaning that it helps facilitate many hormone reactions within the body.
As for its vitamin functions, vitamin D plays a significant role in:
- Bacterial balance
- Blood sugar maintenance
- Bone health
- Brain health and function
- Cellular healing
- Flight infections
- Gut health
- Heart health
- Lowering cancer risk
- Mood balance
Vitamin D Deficiency – Genetic and Lifestyle Factors
Some genetic/lifestyle factors may increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- People with darker complexions
Darker-skinned people have a more difficult time absorbing sunlight, so they have to stay in direct sunlight longer (i.e., 40-45 minutes)
- People who are overweight
Being overweight, obese (or elderly) may lead to a less active lifestyle; and therefore, less inclination to go outdoors and experience sunshine
- People over 50
The ability of your skin to make vitamin D decreases as you get older
- Achy bones
A vitamin D deficiency may cause a defect in putting calcium into the collagen matrix of your bones
- Feeling blue
Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with an elevated mood, increases with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure. Research has shown that Vitamin D levels are related to mental health and depression.
- Head sweating
One of the classic signs of vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty head
- Gut trouble
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin – your gut health affects your ability to absorb fat, as well as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D. Gut conditions like Crohn’s, celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and inflammatory bowel disease can lead to vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D and Autoimmunity
Now, research has confirmed that as a hormone vitamin D binds DNA directly, thereby regulating the expression of genes involved in inflammation and other processes of immunity.
Individuals suffering from a deficiency of vitamin D may experience:
- weakened immunity (get sick or infected easily)
- issues with bacterial overgrowth, as seen with Candida
- mood disorders like depression
- hormonal imbalance
- difficulty gaining muscle or losing weight
- decreased bone mass
- back or muscle pain
- heart disease
Studies have also linked vitamin D deficiency with some specific autoimmune conditions, including insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Based on this research it has been suggested that vitamin D can be a significant factor affecting the prevalence of autoimmune diseases.
The Causes of D Vitamin Deficiency and How You Can Avoid Them
Unfortunately, the environment is often the primary cause of vitamin D deficiency.
Environmental causes may include:
- Not getting enough direct sunlight
- Chemicals found in plastics (i.e., BPA)
- Glyphosate (Roundup)
- Toxicity via exposure to polluted air or water
- Latitude and altitude
- Time of day
Aside from the apparent cause of vitamin D deficiency, limited sunlight, toxic chemicals like BPA and glyphosate (roundup) specifically target vitamin D’s hormonal functions. As a result, vitamin D deficiency induced by these toxic chemicals can generate any of the harmful side effects listed above.
Pollution increases your risk of vitamin D deficiency because it blocks UV radiation. Toxic agents that pollute air or water can produce their own ozone layer and prevent UV rays from penetrating through to the Earth. Thus, the effect of little to no UV rays in the atmosphere is equivalent to not getting enough direct sunlight. This can lead to a low vitamin D level.
Where You Live Affects Your Vitamin D Level
Perhaps not so surprisingly, where you live, specifically the latitude and altitude of your home, influences your vitamin D level. And this involves more than your proximity to the sun! While sunlight is indeed most significant (and most direct) at the equator providing the most extensive supply of UV radiation, your home’s location also influences your exposure to pollution. Cities are more prone to experience air pollution and its UV ray-trapping effects; but, even people who live at low altitudes in valleys surrounded by hills or mountains are at risk.
On the other hand, people who live at high altitudes have the advantage of more UV exposure due to the thinner, colder atmosphere. Nevertheless, they have the disadvantage of not being able to stay in the sun too long for risk of sunburn. Therefore, even their vitamin D levels are likely not optimal.
So, no matter where you call home, it is essential to be aware of the season and the time of day when it comes to exposing yourself to sunlight. For instance, sunshine is abundant during the Spring/Summer when you want to be outside, yet it is less abundant during the Fall/Winter when you want to be inside. This means you should limit your time outdoors during Spring/Summer to avoid sunburn, but increase your time outdoors during Fall/Winter to boost your vitamin D production.
Fortunately, you can overcome these problems every season by sunbathing during times when UV rays are less intense. That is, before 12 noon and after 3 pm local time.
Having your vitamin D level tested (a simple blood test) is a good idea to avoid deficiency. You can also take the steps outlined below to maintain and boost your vitamin D level.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Direct sunlight is the primary source of this vitamin. Exposing the skin to direct sunlight for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes per day gives your body, specifically your liver, what it needs to make D vitamin on its own. Accordingly, certain liver conditions may also cause D vitamin deficiency.
Additional Options for Overcoming Vitamin D Deficiency
In addition to direct sunlight, you can boost your level of D vitamin through your diet and supplements.
First, consider taking natural detoxifying supplements such as milk thistle, modified citrus pectin (MCP), which is derived from the peel and pulp of citrus fruits, and diindolylmethane (DIM), an enzyme found in broccoli, kale, and cauliflower.
Excellent Food Sources of Vitamin D
Include a selection of these excellent food sources of vitamin D in your diet:
- Wild-caught fish (e.g.tuna, mackerel, sardines, and salmon)
- Raw fermented milk (e.g., goat yogurt)
- Mushrooms (when exposed to light)
- Beef Liver
- Egg yolks
You can also take a high-quality supplement (vitamin D3) as a capsule or in spray bottle form. It is recommended that you take between 2000 to 5000 IU once per day.
Take Your D with Healthy Fats
Make sure to take the supplement with healthy fat, because this vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin which means it needs fat to be adequately absorbed in the body. Some ideal healthy fats are coconut oil, avocado, almond butter, and a fish oil supplement.
Consult a Qualified Practitioner
Finding a well-trained Integrative health practitioner trained in nutrient therapy is recommended. You will be able to get advice on the appropriate testing, diet, lifestyle and supplement recommendations.
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