One of the best things about growing up in Liberia for me was the sunshine. I absolutely love to be in the sun. It makes my skin glow, elevates my mood and just makes me feel good! Growing up, I didn’t know that being in the sun was actually also very beneficial for my health because my body was synthesizing Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and immune health, but also plays a role in autoimmune diseases. Many of us these days don’t get enough Vitamin D either because we are afraid of too much sun exposure and the risk of skin cancer or we live in colder climates and spend the majority of the year indoors.
Vitamin D is important for strong bones and this is even more critical for women as we are more prone to developing osteoporosis. It is critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus which are important for bone structure and development. Even if you eat a diet rich in calcium (found in leafy greens) and phosphorus (found in Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, eggs and wild salmon), without Vitamin D, you are not absorbing these minerals.
Not only is Vitamin D critical for keeping your bones health, it also plays a major role in immune health. A study conducted by Oxford University found that Vitamin D may protect against certain autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 Diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and certain cancers, including colorectal cancer. Vitamin D also strengthens our immune system by increasing our white blood cells, which play a major role in fighting infection.
The best way to get your Vitamin D is the way that I did growing up – from the sun. I recommend 20 – 30 minutes a day in the sun without using sunblock (Conventional sunblock contains nasty chemicals that you want to avoid. I’ll be writing another blog post about that in the weeks to come.). The best time to get sunlight is in the morning because it helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. The less light that you get in the morning, the more trouble you’ll have falling asleep at night. You may as well get your sleep regulated while you’re strengthening your bones and boosting your immunity!
The only way to tell whether you’re deficient in Vitamin D is to have a blood test. I suggest that you ask your doctor to check your levels. Experts state that optimal Vitamin D levels should be between 50ng/ml and 80 ng/ml. If you have an autoimmune disease, cancer or heart disease, you want to be on the higher end of that range.
Very few real foods contain Vitamin D, but the best source is from fatty fish such as wild salmon and mackerel. Smaller amounts of Vitamin D are also found in beef liver and egg yolks. Besides sun exposure, and the limited dietary sources, the only other way to get Vitamin D is through supplementation. There are two common types of Vitamin D – D2 and D3. Drisdol is a synthetic form of Vitamin D2 and D3 is the type produced by your body in response to the sun. When you’re supplementing, D3 is the form that you want to take. Fish oils also naturally contain Vitamin D3.
Dr. Frank Lipman, a practitioner of functional medicine, recommends a minimum of 2000 IUs daily. Given that Vitamin D3 is fat soluble and unused amounts are stored in your fat tissue, you don’t want to go above 2000 IUs without having your levels checked. Although it is possible to overdose on Vitamin D through supplementation, you cannot overdose when getting your Vitamin D from the sun because your body only makes what it needs.
Not only is vitamin D critical to bone and immune health, but the National Institute of Health (U.S.) states that at least 1,000 different genes that control every tissue in the body are regulated by Vitamin D3. Most people are deficient in Vitamin D, especially those with darker skin because the melanin in darker skin tones blocks the sun. So, be sure to get your Vitamin D levels checked at your next physical and wherever you live in the world, have some fun in the sun (not too much), enjoy some fatty fish and reap the benefits of Vitamin D!
Now, I want to hear from you. Have you had your Vitamin D levels checked? Do you take supplemental Vitamin D? If so, how much? Let me know in the comments below.