Vitamin D is an absolutely critical nutrient for everybody. Whether you live in the tropics or the great white north, it’s important to observe if you are getting enough Vitamin D on a daily basis. Vitamin D as a nutrient can positively affect many health issues and it is one of the vitamins that people are most deficient in.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not your average vitamin. When ultraviolet light comes into contact with your skin, your skin synthesizes Vitamin D. Vitamin D actually acts as a hormone in your body. Vitamin D is closely related structurally to cortisone and estrogen. All cells, tissues, and organs in the body have Vitamin D receptors. Essentially this means that these cells are awaiting the arrival of Vitamin D to perform vital functions.
Why Are We So Deficient?
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, and even occurs in very warm, sunny areas of the world. It is estimated that 70% of the population of the United States and Canada is deficient. There are several factors that come into play when observing Vitamin D deficiency. Some of the top reasons why we are deficient include:
- Living in areas where there is not enough sun
- Being over-diligent with sun screen
- Spending too much time indoors
- Sun phobia
- Little to no supplementation
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include:
Diseases and Health Issues Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency Include:
- Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Birth Defects
- Auto-Immune Diseases
- Heart Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to and plays a role in causing 17 different types of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate. Vitamin D has been proven to regulate over 2000 genes in the body, and this is why it is linked to so many different health issues.
If you are concerned about Vitamin D levels, you can request that your doctor test your blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D. This is the most accurate test.
How Can We Safely Get More Vitamin D?
Safe, Adequate Sun Exposure
Many people suffer from “sun phobia”, whether it is due to fear of skin cancer or aging skin and age spots from sun damage. One of the main contributors is the overuse of chemical sunscreens, which are not fully proven to protect against skin cancer, and can contain carcinogenic ingredients themselves.
Vitamin D is best absorbed and utilized by the body when it comes from sun exposure. Many are afraid of sun exposure due to skin cancer risk and premature aging of the skin. It is important to note that sufficient intake of daily Vitamin D is critical for cancer prevention, as it is protective of several different types of cancer. That doesn’t mean go out in the sun until you burn. Safe and adequate sun exposure is important whenever possible.
If you’re doing activities that will expose you to a lot of sunshine such as gardening, going to the beach, outdoor activities with little shade, then I suggest the use of natural sunscreen with an SPF of around 15-30. If you are outside for a short time when the sun is not shining at peak times such as very early morning or evening, then it is not completely necessary to wear sunscreen, and wearing it can block the amount of Vitamin D your body is absorbing and synthesizing. Everybody has different skin types, therefore I suggest getting an understanding of when you are more likely to burn and when you aren’t. It is fairly obvious that for most people, going to the beach without sunscreen can result in a sunburn.
Avoiding sunburn is important for skin health and protecting against skin cancer, so do your best to gauge when it is more likely for you to burn. Fair skin burns easier than tanned skin. Gradually allowing your skin to tan by giving yourself safe sun exposure for short periods of time will make you less prone to burns. Furthermore, if you live anywhere north of the southern area of the United States, you know that you are typically only likely to burn anywhere from June-September. It is not typically necessary to wear sunscreen in the spring, fall, or winter, as this will hinder your production of Vitamin D.
In the summer time, if you are outside every day for at least 10 minutes daily during peak sun exposure, most people are actually getting plenty of Vitamin D. UVB rays are the rays the provide the most Vitamin D, and peak hours fall within 10am and 2pm. UVA rays are the rays that are more likely to cause a burn. So if you are out in the late afternoon around 2pm or later, you are more likely to be burnt. So wearing sunscreen during this time recommended if you fear sun burning. From 10am to 2pm you will get the best sun exposure for Vitamin D, and you can wear sunscreen if you will be out in the sun for a long time. But 10 minutes of direct sun exposure daily without sunscreen during these hours will be highly beneficial for Vitamin D production and you are not likely to burn within 10 minutes.
What About Food Sources?
Many claim that you can get enough Vitamin D from food sources. It is simply not possible to eat enough foods containing Vitamin D to ensure sufficient levels in the body. Foods that are fortified with Vitamin D such as dairy products, cereals, etc… are fortified with Vitamin D2, which is not an absorbable form. Vitamin D3 is the only form of Vitamin D supplementation that is highly absorbable. Meats do contain some Vitamin D, but only in small quantities. Many animals do not get to see the light of day, and live indoors in barns with little to no sun exposure, and therefore the levels in meat is also inadequate. You could eat the most “Vitamin D rich foods” that are out there and it still would not be enough. Mushrooms also naturally contain some Vitamin D since they grow under UV light, however, it is still insufficient. This brings us to the next best source. If you cannot get adequate Vitamin D from the sun, supplementation is critical.
Vitamin D3 Supplementation
There are 2 types of Vitamin D on the market. Vitamin D3 is the most absorbable form. Vitamin D2 is the other type that you may see on the shelf. It is truly a waste of money to purchase, as your body doesn’t absorb or utilize it well. Vitamin D3 is the most common supplement so you won’t have to worry about finding it. Just read the label to ensure it is the D3 form before purchasing, just in case. Health Canada’s daily recommended intake of Vitamin D per day is 1000 IU’s for adults, 600 IU’s for children, and 400 IU’s for infants. It is absolutely safe for newborns to receive Vitamin D in supplementation form, and is also recommended by Health Canada. Health Canada’s Daily Recommended Intake is only a start though with how much we should be taking.
Every few years Health Canada increases the DRI as more and more scientific research is released to back up the importance of daily supplementation and exposure. This number is expected to keep increasing. Health Canada’s Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 4000 IU’s for adults, meaning it is safe to take 4000 IU’s daily. This is the number that is closer to how much we should really be taking. Vitamin D supplements are incredibly inexpensive, and if you wish to take closer to 4000 IU’s daily, it is not only proven safe, but recommended by many doctors and physicians. Studies show that supplementation closer to 10 000 IU’s daily is a better amount to be more protective of cancer. When we are in the sun on a summer day for an hour or more, we can actually be exposed to tens of thousands of IU’s of Vitamin D or more! And this has never been a concern or something to be warned about.
Vitamin D overdose is rare, however it is possible from supplementation specifically, as it is a fat soluble vitamin and in some in can build up in the body to dangerous levels. This is typically rare, but important to be aware of, and usually only occurs with incredibly high dosage. Consult your primary care physician for more information or if you have concerns.
Hormones And Women’s Health
As mentioned earlier, Vitamin D is unique because it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin. Since Vitamin D acts like other hormones, it plays a role in setting in motion genetic protein transcription (your genes). Vitamin D is a pleomorphic steroid hormone which means it can take on different forms and has a huge impact on various different body systems. It helps to regulate and balance the sex hormones in the body such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and more.
Vitamin D is known to significantly improve acne. Acne sufferers know that sunshine almost immediately begins to heal acne. The Vitamin D synthesized on the skin is incredibly powerful for reducing or eliminating acne. Most acne sufferers report much clearer skin in the summer months than in the winter months. Taking sufficient Vitamin D3 via supplementation in the winter months is highly suggested for those with acne prone skin.
Having adequate Vitamin D levels is known to reduce PMS symptoms including abdominal bloating, headaches, moodiness, fluid retention, and more. Some women will need higher levels than others to notice a difference.
A Note For Vegans
If you are vegan, please not that most Vitamin D3 supplements are not vegan! Vitamin D3 typically comes from lanolin (it is extract from sheep’s wool). But that doesn’t mean you should settle for buying the ineffective Vitamin D2 form. There are now vegan Vitamin D3 supplements on the market. I personally use the Garden Of Life mykind Organics Vegan D3 Spray. They get their Vitamin D3 from Lichen which is algae based.
Conventional sunscreens contain many many chemicals, some of which have been classified as carcinogenic. It is best to purchase natural sunscreen that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main active ingredient. Natural sunscreens don’t have filler ingredients that are toxic, yet they are still effective. Avoid sunscreens with the following ingredients:
- methyl anthranilate
- octyl methoxycinnamate
- padimate A
- padimate O
- trolamine salicylate
Dioxybenzone and Oxybenzone are two of the most power free radical generators ever formed in a lab. They are completely unnecessary ingredients as natural sunscreens are highly effective! If you are unsure where you will find a good quality natural sunscreen, I suggest going to your local health food or vitamin store.
Vitamin D The Sunshine Vitamin, Zolton Rona, MD, MSc