Sun’s Out Guns Out: Are you getting enough of the “Sunshine Vitamin”?
As we head into the summer months, everyone is excited for a little extra Vitamin D. Despite your tan skin, you may not be getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin”. According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vitamin D levels in Americans have significantly declined in the past few decades. In fact, in the United States, 41% of the total population are Vitamin D deficient.
The body does produce high amounts of Vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun, however, excess sun exposure may increase the risk of skin cancer. Additionally, few foods contain Vitamin D and our ability to produce it declines as we age. Not the ideal circumstances, which is why doctors often prescribe a daily supplement.
WHAT IS VITAMIN D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it dissolves in fats and oils and can be stored in your body for a long duration. There are two main forms of Vitamin D:
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): Found in animal foods like fatty fish and eggs.
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): Found in plants such as mushrooms and yeast.
Vitamin D3 is found to be twice as effective at increasing blood serum levels than Vitamin D2.
HOW IS VITAMIN D USED IN THE BODY?
Despite its name, Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin. Vitamin D is a potent steroid hormone responsible for switching our genes on and off. It has a similar molecular structure to testosterone, cholesterol and cortisol, all of which your body makes naturally.
Vitamin D is responsible for cell to cell communication making Vitamin D important for muscle health, mood and well-being, memory, heart function, and more, explains Arti Lakhani, M.D., Director of Integrative Oncology at AMITA Health Cancer Institute in Illinois.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCIES
Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies and a silent epidemic. Some symptoms are subtle and may take years to surface, however signs may be detectable early on. A blood test is the only true gauge of a Vitamin D deficiency but be on the watch for a few of these signs and symptoms:
- Getting sick often
- Bone density declines
- Great risk for heart attacks
- Increased body fat & loss of muscle mass
- Fatigue, depression, and mood disorders
BEST SOURCES OF VITAMIN D
The sun is an excellent source of Vitamin D, but it is hard to quantify how much Vitamin D you get from time in the sun and the risk of skin cancer may outweigh the benefits. Other factors affect the skin’s ability to produce Vitamin D, including season, time of day, latitude, air pollution, cloud cover, sunscreen, body parts exposed, color and age.
Geographic location plays a large part in your ability to get Vitamin D from sunshine. Harvard Health found that outside of the summer months, there’s little chance of getting enough Vitamin D if you live in the midwest.
VITAMIN D IN FOOD
Vitamin D is naturally present in few foods. Most people assume drinking milk helps to keep adequate levels, however the average milk is fortified with only 100 IU of Vitamin D per cup. At that rate you would need to drink 50 glasses per day to reach recommended dosage. Food manufacturers are fortifying other foods, such as yogurt, cereal, and orange juice to help consumers fill the nutrient gap in their diets. Although fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, swordfish, trout, tuna, and sardines are decent sources, you would have to eat them almost every day to get enough.
Supplementing Vitamin D with a daily tablet can be a very cost-effective option to ensuring you are getting adequate levels. When looking for Vitamin D, choose the D3 gel capsule or liquid form for better absorption. It’s recommended to take Vitamin D supplements with a meal to enhance absorption. Quality supplementation is also critical due to over the counter supplements often contain fillers and may not contain the amount of Vitamin D needed. Elect for a medical grade, FDA regulated supplement to ensure efficacy and absorption.
- According to one study in 17 people, taking Vitamin D with the largest meal of the day increased Vitamin D blood levels by about 50% after just 2–3 months.
- In another study in 50 older adults, consuming Vitamin D alongside a fat-heavy meal increased Vitamin D blood levels by 32% after 12 hours compared to a fat-free meal.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D DO I NEED?
In July 2011, the Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines published recommendations for the evaluation, treatment and prevention of Vitamin D recommending an upper limit of 10,000 IU/day.
The Vitamin D council states that those who rarely get sunlight need to supplement with 5,000IU per day. This would equate to 50 glasses of fortified milk a day or 10 multivitamins.
The Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines, as well as many laboratories and experts recommend a minimum Vitamin D blood level of 30 ng/ml as an acceptable level.
VITAMIN D AND TESTOSTERONE
Researchers found that Vitamin D deficiency, defined by levels less than 20ng/ml, was independently associated with testosterone deficiency. Men with Vitamin D deficiencies were 2.65 times more likely to have testosterone deficiency compared to those with levels above 20 ng/ml.
Vitamin D affects the production of natural and free testosterone along with formation of male sperm cells. Supplementation with Vitamin D has been associated with higher levels of testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin.
If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of low Vitamin D, talk to your doctor about testing your blood serum levels of Vitamin D and adding a supplement to your routine.