It’s common knowledge in medical circles that most of the world’s population is deficient in the essential vitamin D, which is actually a hormone and not a vitamin at all. Unlike other vitamins, given enough sunlight the body can make almost all the vitamin D it needs, but because of modern lifestyles, most of us don’t spend much time outdoors on a regular basis. Often, when we do have the opportunity to be outside, climate change has brought us clouds, overcast days, humidity, and sweltering heat so we can’t even enjoy our time. If we’re fortunate enough to spend any time at the beach, we usually apply sunscreen that blocks out the all-important ultraviolet B.
So what exactly is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is hormone that’s created when the body receives sunlight, specifically UVB energy, through the skin, then moves it on to the liver and finally the kidneys where it becomes functionally active. Without it, we lose bone density and in rare cases, a lack of vitamin D causes rickets.
Our tissues contain proteins that bind to vitamin D in the heart, endocrine system, intestines, and muscles among others, and without it, they don’t function properly. Vitamin D has the capacity to upregulate genes that control metabolic processes, which means it’s an active component of DNA repair, immune function and cancer prevention.
Vitamin D has the potential to:
- Allow the body to absorb calcium and build bone
- Improve strength and balance by binding to muscle receptors
- Relieve unexplained muscle and bone pain
- Reduce the risk of MS
- Reduce the risk of coronary artery calcification characteristic of low D levels
- Regulate blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of stroke
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
What’s the right dosage?
Lifeguards who have had their vitamin D levels tested have been found to have upwards of 6000 ng/ml in their blood. If you have less than 12 ng/mL, you’re considered to be very deficient. But ideally, you’re level should be somewhere between 30 and 50 ng/ml, depending on who you consult. Some experts believe the optimal range is between 50 and 70 ng/ml. If you’re torn between lying in the sun to get you’re vitamin D naturally and avoiding melanoma, take a vitamin D3 supplement. Aim for about 800 units a day. If you’re very low, your doctor can prescribe a once-a-week supplement to bring you up to speed, but don’t take large doses regularly. 2,000 units is still considered safe and it would take massive amounts to become toxic, but it can happen.
Most multiple vitamins will contain between 400 and 800 units of vitamin D. Cod liver oil has a good amount, but it also contains a lot of vitamin A, something that’s easier to get and is also high in multiple vitamins. It’s easier to take too much vitamin A, so don’t take cod liver oil specifically to get vitamin D.
Eat cold water fish such as sardines, salmon and cod, egg yolks and pastured beef liver, or drink orange juice and organic or pastured milk that has been fortified with vitamin D.
The best way to increase your vitamin D level is still adequate and appropriate sun exposure, but how much sun you get and its conversion to vitamin D depends on your age, skin color, geographic elevation, surface reflection (water, sand), and the season and time of day you’re out.
As a rule of thumb, when your skin begins to turn lightly pink, you’ve had enough sun. For people with dark skin, this may be difficult to judge, so start with 15 minutes of midday sun at a time.