THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN
You Think it Would be Easy to Get Enough
It’s summertime, the days are longer, the sun is shining, and we should all be just overflowing with plenty of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, right?!
Well, I recently found out that I am deficient in vitamin D. My blood test came back reflecting a low level as compared to the lab’s ranges. I was completely shocked because it’s summer, I live in one of the sunniest states, spend time outside every day, and take a 2,000 international unit (IU) vitamin D supplement. How could that be? I’ve heard that vitamin D deficiency is common but, gosh, I thought I had it covered. So, the doctor put me on 50,000 IU every other day for 30 days. Yes, that’s four zeros! We’ll see where my levels are in a month.
What is Vitamin D?
Technically, it’s not a vitamin but a hormone that influences a subset of our DNA, requires the skin, the bloodstream, liver, and kidneys for its formation, and is stored in the liver, skin, spleen, brain, and bones. The sun’s UVB rays are the best source for it. However, studies are showing that deficiency is more common than previously understood. Outside of direct sunlight, the best source is supplementation because you simply can’t get enough from food. If you do choose to supplement vitamin D, or any other fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and K2, it’s best to take it with a few nuts, some avocado, or coconut oil to support absorption.
So What? Why Do Vitamin D Levels Even Matter?
Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and the maintenance of teeth and bone tissue. Chronic low vitamin D levels can show up as osteoporosis with bone density loss, hypertension with abnormally high blood pressure, and extremely chronic low levels can cause rickets, which mostly affects children, with delayed growth, bow legs, and pain in the spine, pelvis and legs. Some research even says chronically low vitamin D may even result in various cancers. That makes me take note!
Vitamin D deficiency is more common than originally thought, upwards of 45% of a sample population or more, and it is easy to get your number through a blood test administered by your doctor. When you go in for your annual checkup ask them to include the test for vitamin D. Standard acceptable ranges may run from 30-100 ng/ml depending on the testing lab. However, some published ranges are as low as 20-40 ng/ml.
The Sun Absorption Conundrum
Though vitamin D is not considered an essential vitamin, because it’s more of a hormone manufactured in the body from sunlight exposure, it shouldn’t require food sources or supplementation. However, access to sunlight isn’t always available due to weather, winter seasons, smog, cloudy climates, and busy indoor lives.
It’s claimed that darker skin with more of the pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. While people with very fair skin produce their daily intake rather quickly. The Mayo Clinic recommends 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day while other researchers recommend up to 30 minutes a day depending on your skin tone. The vitamindcouncil.org claims that very dark and difficult to burn skin could take up to 2 hours of exposure to get enough vitamin D and the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health states that 40% of the skin surface needs to be exposed. Now that’s difficult for most of us, even in the summer! An important note - remember to be careful if you are using a prescription that specifically says to limit sun exposure due to increased light sensitivity.
Besides Sunshine, How Do You Get Vitamin D?
Outside of sunlight's UVB rays, there’s very few non-fortified food sources that contain vitamin D. Supplementation with vitamin D3 specifically may be your best bet to get enough if your numbers come back low, you have a dark complexion, live in a cloud-covered environment or far from the equator, have an indoor job, or you just can't meet the sunshine exposure requirements.
Sources of vitamin D
- Sunlight - The best source
- Salmon, sword fish, tuna
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified milk, cereal, orange juice
- Egg yolk
How Much D3 Do You Actually Need to Supplement?
Do I even want to open this can of worms? When it comes to dosing, I’m not convinced that researchers have figured out how much we need. I’ve read many research articles and periodicals and haven’t found a consistent answer. Some recommended daily allowances are as low as 600 IU while others recommend up to 5,000 IU. For fertility support to combating certain diseases, they recommend upwards of 20,000-50,000 IU every other day to weekly for a period of time. Truly it’s confusing and I’m finding there’s no single answer. One consistent trend is that if your levels are in range and you aren’t spending 10-30 minutes in the sun daily with 40% of your skin exposed, a 4,000-5,000 IU supplement per day should keep your levels in the optimal healthy range.
One last important item of note is that too much vitamin D can become toxic in your body. However, you would have to take mega-doses of multi-thousands of IU’s daily for a while to experience toxic calcium build-up in your blood leading to vascular and tissue calcification, heart damage, and kidney problems. If dangerous levels appear, your doctor will have you immediately stop supplementation.
So, my hope is that you are taking away some valuable insight into vitamin D. Your body needs it, you should be able to get all you need from the sun, but being deficient is common. With your doctor’s guidance and D3 supplementation, if needed, you should be good to go.
As a lifelong athlete and your Transformational Nutrition Coach, I have the tools to provide valuable education, guidance, and coaching to support your unique journey back to a healthy and active lifestyle. Reach out, let’s work together!
Cheers to an active you! Annie F., CTNC