Vitamin D is best known for its role in forming strong, healthy bones, however, it also plays a critical role in the following areas:
- Immune system
- Hormone balance
- Muscle function
- Cardiovascular function
- Respiratory function
- Brain development
- Anti-cancer effects
What are the best ways to get vitamin D?
Commonly known as “the sunshine vitamin,” the skin is able to make vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. There are also small amounts of vitamin D in foods such as fortified milk, and yogurt, cheese, eggs, cod liver oil, beef liver, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and tuna. However, it is very difficult to meet you requirements through diet alone.
How much vitamin D do I need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 international units (IU) for adults, and 800 IU for seniors over the age of 70. These are the bare minimum amounts you need to prevent rickets but they are FAR from enough for most adults to optimize vitamin D levels to get all of its benefits (including anti-cancer effects).
According to the Vitamin D Council (and based on my clinical experience), most adults require 4000 IU or more during the winter months depending on their blood levels. Many adults who supplement the recommended 1000-2000 IU per day are still deficient when their blood levels are tested.
Factors that affect vitamin D status:
- Insufficient sun exposure: If you work 9-5 or are wary of the sun, and therefore don’t spend much time outside, or cover-up and use sunblock, you likely aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure. And if you live in Canada, it’s essentially impossible to make vitamin D during the winter, even on sunny days.
- Skin pigmentation: People with darker skin tones have more melanin in their skin, which can interfere with the amount of vitamin D that the skin can produce. While fifteen minutes in the sun may be enough for a fair-skinned individual, someone with a deep complexion may require as much as six times the amount of sun exposure.
- Age: Seniors have an increased risk of developing vitamin D deficiency for a few different reasons. As we age, we lose some of the ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D also needs to be activated in the kidneys, which also decrease in function with age. Lastly, many seniors are housebound and therefore aren’t able to get adequate sun exposure outdoors.
- Kidney dysfunction: With age, the kidneys lose some of their ability to convert vitamin D into its active form.
- Digestive disorders/diseases: When the digestive tract is unable to absorb vitamin D, for instance, due to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease.
- Obesity: Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, thereby reducing its circulation throughout the body. Obese individuals typically require higher amounts of vitamin D supplements to prevent deficiency.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
- Joint and muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
- Brain fog/Difficulty thinking clearly
- Mood changes
- Frequent infections or slow healing time
How can I get my vitamin D levels tested?
A simple blood test can be used to see if you have vitamin D deficiency. Your results can indicate the following:
- Severe Deficiency = less than 30 nmol/L
- Deficiency = between 30 nmol/L and 75 nmol/L
- Normal levels = between 75 nmol/L and 100 nmol/L
- Optimal levels = between 100-200 nmol/mL
How can I raise my vitamin D levels if I’m deficient?
- Get outside: practice safe sun exposure but don’t be afraid of the sun!
- Take a vitamin D3 supplement (dosing will be based on your blood levels)- gelcaps or drops are best for absorption.
- Get a series of vitamin D injections to raise your levels more quickly (as your Naturopathic Doctor if they offer these.