What's the Deal with Vitamin D?
Jessica Wilhelm, BS, CN - Jan 12, 2018
Vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine” vitamin, helps keep bones strong, promotes cell growth, benefits the immune system, and supports cardiovascular health and brain function. When we absorb sun rays, they interact with the cholesterol in our skin (meaning our bodies synthesizes nutrients and sunlight) to turn them into Vitamin D. Pretty cool, right?
Figuring out what's going on in your body doesn't have to be intimidating or scary, and if you're not sure how to get vitamin D, how much you're supposed to be getting, or how it benefits you, we can clarify all your vitamin D related musings below!
How do I get Vitamin D?
Diet and sunlight are the two main ways our body gets vitamin D. Fatty fishes such as salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as dairy products, eggs and shiitake mushrooms are all great dietary sources of vitamin D. While these foods are great sources for the vitamin, there is not always enough of the nutrient present in them to provide necessary levels of vitamin D, and our body's ability to absorb these vitamins varies from person to person based on our iron and bile levels.
The amount of sun exposure each person needs is based on climate, season and the time of day. Generally, people need between 15 minutes and 2 hours of sun exposure daily to get adequate vitamin D. This is of course dependent on how much melanin you have in your skin, with lighter skin absorbing sunlight faster than darker skin. Even after 2 hours of hanging out in the sun, you still might not be getting the right amount of vitamin D to support your body, especially if you shower daily, which washes away cholesterol from the skin (which our bodies need to make vitamin D from sunlight).
How do I know if I'm getting enough?
Recent studies have estimated that over 1 billion people have low vitamin D levels. So, if you do have low levels, you're not alone. Testing your blood levels is one of the most effective ways to know your current vitamin D status and find out if your levels are off. Wellnicity's My Vitamin D At-home Test is a great way to find out what's going on inside your body and figure out what supplements could get your vitamin D levels in a better place. Diet alone is typically not enough to improve vitamin D status, and adults may require 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU of a vitamin D supplement to bring their levels into optimal range.
What are the benefits?
What doesn't vitamin D do? Well, maybe it can't fix everything, but it sure does pull its weight in terms of beneficial vitamins. The list below shows some of the ways vitamin D contributes to your over-all health.
Mood - Low levels of vitamin D may contribute to issues with depression, because it is a nutrient needed to help regulate the release of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that help regulate mood. Higher levels of vitamin D means your body has an easier time making neurotransmitters!
Memory loss and dementia - There are vitamin D receptors in the brain, and low levels of vitamin D has been associated with dementia. A recent study found that “the risk for cognitive impairment was up to four times greater” in those who had vitamin d levels below 25 when compared to those who had levels 75 and above.
Bone Health - Vitamin D plays a key role in the proper absorption of calcium and phosphate from the gastrointestinal tract, which is essential for maintaining healthy, strong bones. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a greater risk for bone loss and fractures.
Immune Health - The cells that make up our immune system need vitamin D to fight pathogens such as viruses and other germs. When the levels of vitamin D are deficient or insufficient, you have a greater risk of getting sick. Decreased levels are also associated with not being able to properly fight infection.
Cardiovascular Health - Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that supports the cardiovascular system. It works through various metabolic pathways that regulate inflammatory processes that may contribute to elevated c-reactive protein (biomarker for inflammation) levels. Vitamin D also plays a role in modulating the system that controls blood pressure.
Blood Sugar Balance - Vitamin D may contribute to blood sugar balance by supporting the actions of insulin and promoting the health of pancreatic cells.
Gastrointestinal Health - Those with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in modulating the inflammatory processes in the gut. Low levels of vitamin D may result in increased inflammation in the digestive tract which can exacerbate symptoms associated with IBS.