The major biological function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium, and thus helps to form and maintain strong bones and teeth. It regulates bone mineralization in unison with a number of other vitamins, minerals, and hormones. Without vitamin D, bones start to become thin, brittle and soft. It’s amazing how many diseases are correlated to low levels of Vitamin D such as osteoporosis, depression and the list appears to be endless. Eczema and allergies in children appear to be linked to low levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to promote the formation of cystatin D, which has shown to suppress tumors and have anticancer effects. Colon cancer will spread through the body much faster when low levels of Vitamin D are present. Vitamin D is recognized as the sunshine vitamin for its immune enhancing effects during the winter time. It helps with a better night’s sleep, enhances your mood, lowers blood pressure and actually protects from Melanoma. These are just a handful of things Vitamin D can do for your body and health.
The optimal way to get your Vitamin D is from the sun. While the sun has gotten a bad rap, being portrayed as a skin cancer-inducing object in the sky to be avoided at all cost, it’s important to consider that exposure to UVB light is actually protective against melanoma (the most lethal form of skin cancer). A study in Medical Hypotheses suggested that indoor workers may have increased rates of melanoma because they’re exposed to sunlight through windows, and only UVA light, unlike UVB, can pass through window glass. (While UVB light gives you that tanned look and causes your skin to produce vitamin D, UVA rays are the ones associated with skin damage and skin cancer.) Since indoor workers, who get three to nine times less solar UV exposure than outdoor workers, are missing out on exposure to the beneficial UVB rays, they will have lower levels of vitamin D and therefore miss out on the “built-in” cancer protection offered by regular exposure to the sun, or a sun lamp.
It’s important to understand that vitamin D3 is an oil soluble steroid hormone. It’s formed when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun (or a safe tanning bed). When UVB strikes the surface of your skin, your skin converts a cholesterol derivative in your skin into vitamin D3. However, the vitamin D3 that is formed is on the surface of your skin does not immediately penetrate into your bloodstream. It actually needs to be absorbed from the surface of your skin into your bloodstream. New evidence shows it takes up to 48 hours before you absorb the majority of the vitamin D that was generated by exposing your skin to the sun! So if you shower with soap, you will simply wash away much of the vitamin D3 your skin generated, and decrease the benefits of your sun exposure. To optimize your vitamin D level, you need to delay washing your body with soap for about two full days after sun exposure. You only need to use soap in your armpits and groin area so this is not a major hygiene issue. You’ll just want to avoid soaping up the larger areas of your body that were exposed to the sun.
Vitamin D is best known for its role in calcium metabolism and bone health. New roles are continually being discovered for Vitamin D including roles in mental health, blood sugar regulation, the immune system, and cancer prevention. Yet standard modern advice is to take cholesterol-lowering drugs, avoid the sun, eat a low-cholesterol diet combined with a recommended daily intake of vitamin D that is only a tenth of what many researchers believe to be sufficient. All of which seems to pave the way for widespread vitamin D deficiency. One of cholesterol’s many functions in the body is to act as a precursor to vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be obtained from foods. Foods that provide this vitamin (all of which are animal foods) tend to be high in cholesterol. Since cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D, inhibiting the synthesis of cholesterol will also inhibit the synthesis of vitamin D. Since sunlight is required to turn cholesterol into vitamin D, avoiding the sun will likewise undermine our ability to synthesize vitamin D. And since vitamin D rich foods are also rich in cholesterol, low-cholesterol diets are inherently deficient in vitamin D. Sunscreen blocks all the UVB light from entering the skin, not to mention causes cancer, and thus causes no Vitamin D to be produced. To be perfectly healthy following our ancestor’s footsteps is a good idea. Our bodies have evolved for millions of years under those conditions so it’s no wonder that drastic changes affect us. We were designed to be out in the sun not inside under artificial lighting.
Our bodies have a natural mechanism to protect us from too much sun exposure, our natural tan. Vitamin D is in direct competition for absorption with folate (or Vitamin B9), another vital constituent of our health. Our skin gets darker in presence of sunlight to reduce our absorption of Vitamin D and prevent folate deficiency. When our ancestors moved north hundreds of thousands of years ago, we started to get less sunlight exposure and our skin became lighter to compensate. That makes white and black skin pretty much only a matter of Vitamin D absorption. Therefore, black people living in northern climates are at even greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency. As is anyone during the winter months when getting adequate sunlight is not an option.
You want to measure your Vitamin D3 levels to know how much Vitamin D you need. A deficient level is considered below 50 ng/ml. Optimal levels are 50-70 ng/ml. If you are treating cancer or heart disease your levels need to be in the therapeutic range of 70-100 ng/ml. Excess is considered above 100 ng/ml. You don’t have to worry about being in the excess range from safe sunlight exposure. You will be lucky to reach above 50 ng/ml unless you are getting regular exposure and eating properly. For most people to reach above 50 ng/ml and especially into the therapeutic range supplementation is necessary. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D for people between 13 and 50 years old is 200 IU (International Units) and 400 IU for older people. However this recommendation is much lower than the actual appropriate intake. The tolerable upper intake levels have been set to 2000 IU per day in Canada and the US, but evidence shows that doses up to 10,000 IU are perfectly healthy. And when you get your Vitamin D directly from sunlight, there are mechanisms that protect you from getting too much. If you decide to go with a supplement choose one that contains from 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU. Someone living in a tropical area and who is exposed to sunlight all day long could get as much as 12,000 IU a day. Choose a Vitamin supplement that comes in a gel capsule since Vitamin D is a fat soluble and the body needs fat to absorb it. An excellent adjunct to vitamin D is the antioxidant astaxanthin. Not only can it act as an internal sunscreen, protecting your skin from harmful radiation (both solar and medical radiation) but it also appears to have a rejuvenating effect on skin in general.
Have fun under the sun frequently and get plenty of healthy Vitamin D!
Choose the best food for the best health,
Cherise Scally C.N.P., C.H.P., Health Coach
Food for Life Counseling Service
Cherise is a Certified Naturopathic Practitioner, Holistic Nutritionist, Health Coach, loving mother
of two sons and grandmother. She reversed Type 2 Diabetes and is two years Diabetes free. She
authored a book about her journey to be diabetes free, “A Personal Journey to Reverse Type 2 Diabetes”.
She became a Health Coach to fulfill her passion of working with children and adults to improve their
health and reverse chronic illness due to the foods we eat. Cherise received her training at the
University of Natural Health where she graduated summa cum laude, graduated the Institute for
Integrative Nutrition as a Health Coach and is continuing her studies at the school and will graduate advanced studies in January 2014. She is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. She leads
workshops on nutrition and offers Individual health and nutrition coaching.