Vitamin D – A History
Vitamins are defined as an essential nutrient that your body cannot produce on its own and must acquire from the diet – vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a hormone, which is a chemical that regulates body physiology. Your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so it does not need to acquire it from food if adequate sunlight is available.
Most of us are deficient in vitamin D. This deficiency was rare when people would spend most of their days outside, but this is no longer the case. Most of us spend the vast majority of daylight hours inside, and this deficiency has been a problem since this began being the new norm.
Vitamin D was discovered in 1920 where its importance in our bodies was realized in discovering a way to cure rickets, a painful bone disease in children. Within a decade, fortification of foods with vitamin D began, making rickets rare in the US.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
We are discovering more and more ways that the body utilizes vitamin D as time goes on. Vitamin D receptors, proteins that bind to vitamin D, exist in many of the body’s tissues, including the heart, muscles, endocrine glands, prostate and many others. These receptors demonstrate that vitamin D is important throughout the body.
Bone health is a major way that vitamin D is essential for our bodies – it is necessary for our bodies to be able to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, the body absorbs only 10-15% of dietary calcium, versus 30-40% when our vitamin D levels are normal. So even if you are consuming plenty of calcium, you may not be getting as much as your bones need due to an inability to absorb it.
Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce belly fat. Of all the places to lose fat, the middle of our bodies is usually the hardest and the most important, both for looking lean and for being healthy. Not only weight, but waist-to-hip ratio, is a factor in your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition had 23 overweight participants who all went through a 12-week resistance training program. Half of them took 4,000 IU’s of vitamin D while the others received a placebo. While both groups lost the same amount of fat, the group that took the vitamin D supplements were more likely to have lowered their waist-to-hip ratio to a greater extent than the placebo group.
What might be the most noticeable effect right away is that of memory and mental alertness. A British study of 3,000 European men found that those with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood showed superior information processing and memory function abilities than those with lower levels.
Many other benefits have been found as well, such as lowered risk or getting sick, lower depression risk, decreased cancer risk, better heart health, hair health (including less balding), and it has been found to reduce muscle pain.
Especially during winter months, many of us may notice an energy and mental lull and assume that this is due to the changing weather. Often times the culprit is a lack of vitamin D.
Who Needs to Worry?
Leading considerations are where you live and the time of the year. Those of us who live at latitudes below 37 degrees south or above 37 degrees north do not have access to sufficient sunlight except during the summer months. This line of latitude crosses below Colorado, Utah and Kansas, so the majority of us in the US require additional dietary vitamin D throughout the year even if we spend time outdoors.
Even if you live in Florida, if you spend time indoors and wear sunscreen, you are still getting a limited amount of vitamin D from the sun. This is because sunscreen drastically reduces the amount of vitamin D produced from the sun.
Pigmentation can reduce the production of vitamin D by over 90%, so those of us with darker skin are at even higher risk and need more time in the sun or higher supplementation under the same living conditions.
Individuals with liver or kidney diseases are at high risk as well due to the involvement of these organs in vitamin D production.
How to Get Enough Vitamin D
Now that we understand how important vitamin D is in our bodies, and how likely it is that we do not have enough, how do we get more? Here are five tricks to get the vitamin D that your body needs.
It can be a good idea to first spend a bit of time in the sun before applying sunscreen. Spend 10-15 minutes three times per week in direct sunlight without sunscreen on. This in and of itself may be enough to prevent deficiencies if you live where there is ample sunlight to bathe in.
Eat fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, and egg yolks. In addition, many foods have been fortified with vitamin D, so look for this at your grocery store. Such foods include some milks, yogurts, orange juices and cereals.
3. Mushroom Trick
Mushrooms are a great source of natural vitamin D, and exposing mushrooms to sunlight prior to eating them will ramp up their vitamin D levels! So sit them on your window sill or backyard prior to adding them to your food.
4. UV Lamps
Do not get this confused as a recommendation to go to the tanning salon! UV lamps are similar to tanning beds, but not identical. They carry the same skin-cancer risk as the sun or tanning beds, so be careful not to overdo it. These are a great option for those who live where there is little access to direct sunlight.
It is best to obtain some sunlight and concentrate on adding additional vitamin D in your diet. That being said, if you believe you are lacking vitamin D you can always buy supplements. Total recommended intake can vary from about 200 IU to 400 IU per day, including what you get from diet and sunlight.
With these five tips you are ready to get out there and get all of the vitamin D that you have been missing! Be more alert, increase your bone strength, weight and cardiovascular health with one simple deficiency fix.
1. What is Vitamin D and How Does it Work
2. Vitamin D and your health: Breaking old rules, raising new hopes
3. How Vitamin D Can Help Slash Your Risk of 7 Different Acute and Chronic Diseases
4. Six Reasons You Need Vitamin D
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6. One Weird Trick Could Help Your Get Enough Vitamin D This Winter
7. Heart Patients Lacking Vitamin D More Likely to Be Depressed
8. 12 WAys to Get Your Daily Vitamin D