Are you vitamin D deficient? It’s quite possible. According to the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) database, at least 40% of Americans are deficient.
Potential signs of deficiency;
- Tired or sick often
- Anxiety or depression
- Muscle, bone, or back pain
- Osteoporosis or frequent bone fractures
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of cognition
Here’s a shocking statistic for you; according to Free the Kids – Dirt is Good, prison inmates spend more time outdoors than the average kid. Holy cow! Think this might be adding to our problem?
Let’s look at causes and how to optimize your levels to optimize your health.
First, we need to understand what it is and what is the ideal level, not just for surviving but for thriving. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vital nutrient that your body requires to absorb calcium from your gut into your bloodstream. It functions as a hormone versus a vitamin in your body.
Vitamin D is essential for bone, heart, skin, and hair health as well as a healthy immune system. There are two main forms; vitamin D3 which comes from animal products or sunlight exposure and vitamin D2 which comes from plants.
The FDA recommendation is 400-800 IU (International Units) per day. Many studies and experts recommend a higher daily intake of 1000-4000 IU or up to 10,000+ in deficiency situations until the level is optimized. The only way to know if your levels are where they need to be is to have your blood levels measured. It is easily checked with the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. I recommend testing regularly to ensure your level is optimized.
What Are the Causes of This Crisis?
- Sun avoidance is a big one. Understandably, people started slathering on the sunscreen and covering their bodies in order to protect themselves from the sun and skin cancer. We’ve gone too far with this protection and now aren’t getting enough safe sun exposure, resulting in a serious lack of vitamin D for many. Lack of sunlight has also been linked to cancer. We need a healthy balance here. I agree there are times we need to use sunscreen; however, if you do, I caution you to read the labels, so you know exactly what’s in it. Many of them are loaded with chemicals and ingredients that are harmful to your skin and health.
- Those living in northern latitudes, anyone living in areas that don’t have accessible sunlight, and those who spend most of their time indoors are all at significant risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Skin pigment acts as a natural sunscreen, so the darker your skin, the more sun exposure your body requires to optimize your vitamin D level.
- Malabsorption is another problem. Those with a compromised gut may struggle to absorb vitamin D derived from food.
How to Optimize
- Spend Time in the Sun: Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is the only vitamin that can be produced by our bodies when we expose our skin to the sun’s UV rays. Sunlight exposure cues our skin to make vitamin D. Expose large skin surface areas to direct sunlight in short increments that do not allow burning. Time will vary based on skin pigmentation, location, and age. 10-30 minutes of sun exposure can produce up to 10,000 IU. A few times per week is usually adequate for most. Safe sun exposure is superior to diet or supplementation for maximizing vitamin D levels. Bonus, sunlight has a powerful mood-elevating effect. Feeling blue? Get some sun and fresh air!
- Consume Foods That Have High Levels of Vitamin D: I am a big believer that we should get our vitamins from food as much as possible. However, it is very difficult to satisfy this need through food, particularly for vegans. The highest vitamin D food sources are cod liver oil, fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and grass-fed beef liver, butter and cheese. These sources can range from 1-1360 IU, based on how much you eat. Fortified foods are typically fortified with D2, the plant version because it’s cheaper to produce. As you can see, you would have to eat lots of these foods to get even close to the levels safe sun exposure can provide.
- Take a Supplement: If you can get adequate exposure to sunlight, there is no need to take a vitamin D supplement. We live in Texas and supplement much less often in the summer. If you don’t have access to the sun, you may need to supplement. Work with your health care practitioner to determine your needs and the best type for you. They can also look at your calcium, magnesium, and zinc levels to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of these three important minerals that your body needs to maximize health.
As for my family and me, we’ll take our vitamin D via sunshine as much as we possibly can. When I was a kid, we spent every possible minute outside. Yes, times have changed. Yes, there are safety concerns… at least perceived safety concerns. According to WashingtonPost.com; “There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America.” There is just much more publicity and visibility when things do go wrong.
We must allow and encourage our kids to go outside and simply play. Go along with them, or grab your own friends to play. Unstructured playtime with no rules is good for creativity and problem-solving. Get them off their devices and away from the TVs. Boredom and daydreaming are healthy and good for all of us. Not to mention the benefits of fresh air; good for overall health, immune system, lungs, makes you happy and gives you energy.
Go outside and play! Questions, comments, and shares are welcomed.