After a long summer of gorgeous sunny days, our vitamin D levels should be stellar! That’s because our skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. But some of us don’t have optimal levels even at the end of August. Below I discuss why that might be, as well as testing, and important considerations when supplementing.
The Many Roles of Vitamin D
Back when I was in nutrition school, vitamin D was mainly appreciated for its function in bone metabolism. But after decades of research, this vitamin is now recognized for its vital role in many aspects of our health. It controls genes related to cancer, autoimmune disease, and the immune system. Low levels have been associated with increased mortality, cardiovascular events, various cancers, a weakened immune system, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and systemic inflammation (which in and of itself contributes to all types of chronic disease), and mood disorders. As we go into the fall, having an optimal level of the sunshine vitamin is especially important because low levels can make us vulnerable to colds and the flu, as well as seasonal depression.
Why We May not Get Enough
Clearly, we need to have enough vitamin D to stay healthy. But many of us don’t for a variety of reasons. We generate our own vitamin D by exposing large areas of our skin to direct sunlight, ideally 10-15 minutes a day a few times a week. This is limited by:
* Working full time indoors.
* Using sunscreen when outside (which blocks about 97% of vitamin D production).
* Living above the 37th parallel (which is basically everything north of Texas). There is only sufficient UVB to make vitamin D during the summer months in the north.
* Having darker skin. The melanin in dark skin blocks UV rays, which in turn inhibits vitamin D production.
* Aging. Older adults make about a quarter of the vitamin D a younger person does.
Since most of us have one or more of these factors, Houston, we’ve got a problem. (Well, not technically in Houston.) Indeed, research has demonstrated that 50% of Americans and 70% of children aren’t getting enough vitamin D.
Checking your Levels
Because insufficiency can have such far reaching effects, I highly recommend staying abreast of your vitamin D status. It would be interesting to know whether it’s in the optimal range after months of sunshine.
The conventional range for vitamin D is usually 30 – 100 ng/mL. But it’s important to understand that conventional lab ranges are just statistical norms that encompass 95% of the population (determined by going 2 standard deviations from the mean value). So the conventional ranges represent normal values for a pretty unhealthy population, not something to strive for. Research has shown that having at least 50 ng/mL of vitamin D is better for optimal health. (Be aware that sometimes values are reported in different units.)
What to do if it’s low? Get on that right away through more sun and/or supplementation (food isn’t a very realistic source). Work with your doctor through regular testing to ensure that your vitamin D is in the optimal range.
Boosting your Levels
Research has demonstrated that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 (the active form) is beneficial and completely safe. Even up to 10,000 IU has been shown to be safe for up to 5 months, but I don’t recommend that high dose unless there is a demonstrated need because very high doses suppress the immune system. Taking drops under the tongue helps to ensure absorption, especially if there is insufficient fat absorption in the intestines.
Nutrients work in teams, and your body’s final conversion of vitamin D uses a significant amount of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the top three nutrient deficiencies in the US. Taking some magnesium with your vitamin D would help avoid further depletion. Symptoms of magnesium insufficiency include constipation, tight muscles, cramps, anxiety, headaches, blood sugar issues, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. Be on the lookout for that in general, and if especially you’re supplementing with vitamin D.
Magnesium comes in different forms. A great form that won’t affect your bowels is magnesium glycinate. Magnesium citrate can cause loose stools but is a great option if you have constipation. The oxide and carbonate forms are not well absorbed, and are usually found in low quality brands. Be sure to get your magnesium in capsules, not compressed tablets, which don’t get absorbed as well. I recommend Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate.
Another refinement is to take D3 in conjunction with K2. Vitamin D causes your body to absorb more calcium. The K2 ensures that the extra calcium goes to your bones, and not the soft tissues where it can cause calcifications and hardening of the arteries. A high quality combo option is Thorne D3/K.
Stay healthy by optimizing your vitamin D levels! If your levels are less than 50 ng/mL;
* 2000 IU of vitamin D3 (or D3/K2) drops under tongue
* 100 – 200 mg magnesium glycinate
* Regular assessment of your vitamin D levels with your doctor, adjusting your supplemental dose as necessary
Image: Catching Cabo Sun by Sand Storm Trooper and Ruler of the Sea
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