After being put down for years in the medical community and in the press, vitamin D is now getting its day in the sun. It has emerged as an absolutely essential hormone that, in addition to playing an important role in preventing cancer and heart disease, also enhances muscle strength, builds bone, has anti-inflammatory effects, bolsters the immune system, and helps regulate insulin. This has broad and far-reaching consequences when it comes to helping people live healthy, energetic, disease-free lives! Yet, D deficiencies run rampant.
According to Dr. John J. Cannell, who heads the nonprofit Vitamin D Council, 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough vitamin D in their daily diet. According to a 2009 article in the medical journal Pediatrics, about one in five American children (more than 6 million) are deficient. And vitamin D deficiency has become almost epidemic worldwide—affecting more than a billion people, with serious consequences. It often goes unnoticed because many who are deficient show no symptoms.
Produced in your skin in response to UV rays from sun exposure, Vitamin D helps make hundreds of enzymes and proteins and has the ability to interact with and affect more than 2,000 genes. Only 20 minutes of sun exposure (sans sunscreen) can produce up to 20,000 IUs! However, if you religiously apply sunblock you won’t get the D benefit from the sun’s rays. Also, if you live north of the 37th latitude (roughly a line drawn from Virginia to Northern California) the sunlight is not sufficient to create vitamin D during the winter months. This factors into why vitamin D deficiency is so widespread.
Steps to Replenish D
Ask your doctor to test your levels. You’ll want to specifically request a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D) test. If you can’t or prefer not to go through your doctor, ZRT Laboratory offers a test you can order.
Spend more time outdoors without sunscreen—aim for modest exposure to sunlight. Of course, you want to be careful about burning if you are fair skinned, but in general, 20 minutes a day in the spring, summer, and fall either on your bare face, arms, or legs should suffice.
While you couldn’t ever derive all of the vitamin D you need solely from foods, here are some of the few that do contain it: wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, cod liver oil, shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified cereals, milk, and orange juice. Eating these regularly can help fill in the gaps.
Supplement with vitamin D3. The amount you require largely depends on many variables, including the severity of your deficiency, your size, your age, where you live, your race, and how diligent you are with applying sunscreen; meaning, bigger, older, dark-skinned people who live in the North need more vitamin D. In general, doctors are now recommending you get 2,000-4,000 IUs daily. But if you’re deficient, you’ll want to work with your doctor to determine the exact levels needed to optimize your vitamin D levels; this can take up to six months to correct. Monitoring levels every few months will help you make sure you don’t miss out on the amazing health benefits of vitamin D.