Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin” – sounds pretty cheery, right? Not if you’re deficient in it! Vitamin D gets it’s nickname because our bodies produce it in response to UV-B rays from sunlight. Vitamin D is important to many functions in our body, but most notably, it helps us utilize calcium from our diet.
Vitamin D deficiency is a world-wide problem, but seems to be even more widespread in northern areas that do not get as much direct sunlight throughout parts of the year. Further complicating things, is that fact that we seem to have developed a fear of the sun due to the risk of various skin cancers and premature aging/wrinkles and skin discoloration. Wearing SPF 30 sunscreen has been shown to reduce vitamin D synthesis in the skin by more than 95%!
Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in many health problems:
- Increased risk of death from heart disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults
- Certain types of cancer
- Lowered Immunity and Autoimmune disease
- Severe asthma and allergies in children
- Increased risk of bone fractures, especially in the elderly
- Muscle Weakness
You may not even know that you are deficient. Fatigue and generalized aches and pains can be symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, but many people with deficiencies will show no symptoms at all. A blood test is the only accurate way to measure your vitamin D levels, but many people (especially those in northern climates) are sure to be suffering from some degree of deficiency. So what can you do?
- Get Some Sun!! Studies have shown that even 10-15 minutes, a few times per week, of sun exposure to larger parts of the body (back, arms, chest, legs) can boost your body’s natural production. No need to burn!
- Consume foods that naturally contain vitamin D: Cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna. egg yolks, and even shiitake mushrooms all contain vitamin D.
- Supplement with vitamin D. There are many, many varieties of vitamin D supplements on the market today. Taking a supplement may be the easiest way for many people to ensure their needs are met. While it is hard to over-do it with vitamin D, excessive amounts of calcium could occur as a result of over-supplementation. It is best to not exceed the tolerable upper limits set in place by advisory boards such as The Vitamin D Council. They recommend no more than 1000 IU/day for infants, 1000 IU/25 lbs of body weight/day for children, and 5000 IU/day for adults. In addition, there are certain medical conditions that may make someone hypersensitive to vitamin D supplementation. Make sure you consult your healthcare practitioner before starting a vitamin D supplementation program.