Benefits of Vitamin D – Am I Getting Enough Or Should I Supplement?
By: Catherine Payne
We love summer for the slow, carefree, and fun atmosphere it brings. Long days in the sun ending with a barbeque and community with friends is summer sweetness and something to look forward to amidst hot days. The sun shines and we feel ourselves shining as well. Clearer skin, a natural glow, and sunkissed skin accompany summer. Our Fridays seem endless, our mood improves and we feel those summer vibes. This, all thanks to UV rays from the sun and increased vitamin D circulating through our bodies.
We get the sunshine vitamin from plenty of sunlight and it’s one of the best vitamins for immunity. Vitamin D has many health benefits that lead to a flourishing life. Even though many of us spend a lot of time outside in the summer, nearly every American is deficient. Most people will benefit from vitamin D in their daily personalized vitamins routine because of its positive health effects.
So are you getting enough vitamin D? Chances are, you’re not.
What is Vitamin D, anyway?
There are many benefits of Vitamin D, as it is one of the best vitamins for immunity. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin and used as a hormone by the body to initiate hundreds of physiological functions. Vitamin D3 is the major circulating form that we need to optimize healthy whole body system functions. Most often, we think of vitamin D in its regulatory role with calcium and phosphorus to build and strengthen bones. Of late, vitamin D intake is of particular interest, as it is a primary hormonal regulator in immunity. Without vitamin D, the body would become susceptible to infection.
There are several ways to get vitamin D, though research shows that utilizing only one of those strategies will leave you depleted. Our skin can convert it from the sun for use in our body. Yale Medicine dermatologist David J. Leffel explained that receptor cells convert ultraviolet sun rays to vitamin D for use in the body through a chain of enzymatic reactions. Sunlight can be the only form of vitamin D for a large percentage of the population. Even that is highly dependent on location and time of year. It’s also found in a few foods-salmon, tuna, beef liver, and egg yolk. These foods are not common in many American’s daily eating routines. And when they are, they are not consumed in large enough quantities to give an adequate dose of vitamin D.
There are few key vitamins that need to be supplemented for nearly everyone. Vitamin D is one of them. Supplementing vitamin D to fill the gaps is a useful strategy, but you need to make sure you’re getting the right dose and type you need. Though it’s difficult to get the right amount of vitamin D, it is critical to our health.
The Benefits of Vitamin D on Health
- Supports immune system
- Supports nervous system
- Regulating insulin levels
- Reducing the risk and duration of flu
- Reduces inflammation
- Reducing cancer cell growth
Do I Have a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Simply put. Being vitamin D deficient is a problem. But if you’re low, you’re not alone. More than 94% of the population is deficient in vitamin D. We need vitamin D for immunity and nearly all other body systems use vitamin D in various ways. A vitamin D deficiency may occur from inadequate intake and sun exposure or due to an underlying medical condition. As one of the best vitamins for your immunity, it’s to your benefit, especially now, to make sure you have adequate levels.
How Deficiency Occurs
Diet: If you don’t eat fatty fish, eggs, milk with lactose, or are vegan/vegetarian, you will not receive much if any vitamin D from your foods.
Limited sun exposure: If you live in an environment with limited sun exposure or weak UV rays, your body is not exposed to adequate sunlight to create Vitamin D.
Digestion conditions: Those with conditions that affect absorption, like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease will have difficulty getting enough vitamin D.
Not getting enough Vitamin D is a serious problem that, if prolonged, leads to major issues. One of the most common diagnoses with vitamin D deficiency is osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults and, though much more rare, rickets (deformed bones) in children. Symptoms of a deficiency are bone pain and muscle weakness. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of other issues. Among them are increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline and cancer. But perhaps, of concern to many now is inadequate immune response to infection. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, consideration of daily personalized vitamins that include a vitamin D regimen is important.
How Do I Get Enough Vitamin D?
Can’t I just get it in my diet?
If you think that just eating a healthy balanced diet has you covered. Think again. Science shows us that for vitamin D in particular, that’s simply not enough. And vitamin D is so rarely present in dietary patterns in high enough amounts that it is no longer thought to be the primary mode of delivery.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
fortified milk, cereals and juices
Can I get it from the sun?
Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, but can be produced through the skin when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet-B rays. The sun is a great natural resource for those who can convert it to the usable form. Plants, animals, and humans produce vitamin D when exposed to natural sunlight. Our skin produces vitamin D3 after sun exposure, providing our bodies with the needed form for health and wellness.
While sunlight is the easiest way to get vitamin D, here’s the rub. You likely can’t stay in the sun long enough to get the needed amount. Even if you do, your body may not be able to properly convert it into the usable form and cancer concerns dictate limited exposure. Dermatologists consistently warn against excessive sun exposure and recommend some, but limited exposure to the sun. Sunscreen and limited hours in the sun will protect your body from skin-related diseases. So in order to get the necessary amount of vitamin D, supplementing with vitamins should be considered.
Can I get it through supplements?
Given the wide-spread deficiency in the population and cancer concerns from exposure to the sun, physicians recommend getting your vitamin D through supplements. Vitamin D is one of the best vitamins for immunity and should be included in your personalized vitamin routine. The trick is knowing what type, how much you need and the best way to supplement to increase your odds of absorption.
The National Institute of Health recommends 15 mcg for adults 19 years old and older. This is the amount recommended for healthy people with average daily routines. However, needs may be different among those with health conditions or simply with changing metabolic status. Knowing what is best for you is key. That’s where precision nutrition comes into play.
Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it’s best absorbed using fat as transport. Research is showing us that, for many with absorption issues, topical application of vitamin D may be the best way for some to get their daily dose. Though it’s rare, it can be toxic in high doses, so don’t over do it. A nutritionist or integrative physician can help you navigate your specific needs. Thoughtfully designing intake for you is best.
What type of vitamin D do I need?
The sunshine vitamin is as good as its nickname makes it sound. Vitamin D, the only vitamin produced by the human body through sunlight, has many positive benefits to keep you healthy. It is one of the best vitamins for immunity, protects against bone and cardiovascular conditions and leaves you with glowing skin. Let’s face it, isn’t that what we all want right now?
Navigating the options can be overwhelming. Nearly every vitamin brand offers vitamin D. Most think of vitamins in pill form, but there are liquid options, powder options, and even intravenous bars, where you can relax in a spa-like environment while you get your daily dose through an IV. Most people don’t have the time or the luxury of hitting the vitamin spa. So, the vitamin aisle – either in person or virtual- is where you’ll land.
D2 and D3 are the most common forms found in vitamins. D2 is plant-based and D3 is animal based, though neither D2 or D3 is present in high enough amounts to be considered adequate. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that vitamin D3 supplements sustained positive biological effects longer than D2, indicating that vitamin D3 may be the better choice for some. However, that is highly dependent on the individual. Adding vitamin D to your daily personalized vitamins is critical. But what type is best for you? It depends on your specific needs and it changes throughout your life. A nutritionist can match you to the best one for you.