Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
WHICH FOODS SHOULD I EAT TO GET MORE?
Our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight: specifically, full-body exposure to the sun without sunscreen. Over the past 20 years, our exposure to the sun has diminished greatly amidst fear of malignant melanoma (which continues to be on the rise). The most abundant food source is cod liver oil, although food sources of vitamin D are not plentiful.
WHAT DOES IT DO FOR ME?
The most recent research has illuminated some very surprising facts about vitamin D. In the past, its main role was thought to be its important role in bone density. We now have evidence that supports the immune system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, endocrine system, and the musculoskeletal system.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH?
It is becoming clear that vitamin D plays a role in many of the chronic illnesses plaguing our country today, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, autism, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, restless leg syndrome, birth defects, allergies, and periodontal disease. Vitamin D deficiency also appears to play a role in seventeen varieties of cancer.
SHOULD I GO TO THE TANNING SALON FOR MY DAILY DOSE?
Is this a safe alternative to natural sunlight? If you ask the tanning industry, yes! It’s perfectly safe. In fact, they say it has many benefits, including a big dose of vitamin D. Unfortunately, the research does not agree. In fact, users of tanning salons may be 8-13 times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. This increased risk occurred even with infrequent exposure to tanning beds. It is considered very high risk behavior, especially for teenagers. Some states have even prohibited those under a certain age from using tanning beds without parental consent.
WHO SHOULD TAKE IT?
Unless you spend time in the sun daily with full body exposure, you could benefit from supplementation. People with darker skin tones need more vitamin D than fair people. Fat cells can impair your ability to properly manage vitamin D. People living in northern latitudes can benefit greatly. An objective measure is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test, which can be performed in any lab. Given all the complicating factors, it is becoming standard for physicians to test for this level. Optimal levels are between 70-100 ng/mL, or sometimes even higher in cases of autoimmune disease.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?
Currently, the recommended daily allowance is 200IU, but this is now thought to be a fraction of what you really need. In fact, we now think everyone needs 10-20 times that amount: 2000-4000IU. Current research shows that toxicity is only an issue if you take over 50,000IU daily long-term. To be on the safe side, check with your physician to test your current levels and then supplement accordingly.
WHAT MAKES GOOD COMPANY FOR VITAMIN D?
Other choices you might consider to go along with Vitamin D include a good calcium-magnesium supplement, essential fatty acids, and B-complex.
The calcium-magnesium supplement is beneficial for bone health, but also very important for your muscles. If you have muscle cramps or restless legs at night, vitamin D-calcium-magnesium may just be the ticket. Make sure you get a product with good absorbability. This is more of an issue as you age.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are those that must be consumed, because your body cannot make them from other nutrients. The ones to focus on are the omega-3 fatty acids, found in flax and certain deep-sea fish. EFAs are anti-inflammatory for your whole body, and have tremendous benefit for you heart, brain, nerves, skin and joints. Combined with vitamin D and B-complex, they provide excellent neurological support. They may help you with depression, anxiety, or seasonal affective disorder.