Vitamin D is the “sunshine” vitamin and is crucial to your general health and wellbeing. It is estimated that almost half of the population worldwide has a vitamin D deficiency. Hypovitaminosis D is caused by lack of sunlight, diet, age, skin tone, but also your geographical position. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin when it is exposed to UVB radiation in sunlight.
Why Vitamin D Is Important and Some Facts About Vitamin D Deficiency:
- Vitamin D keeps the bones and muscles healthy, as it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate. It helps calcium absorption and preserves your bones' and teeth density and strength. Extreme vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis.
- It keeps your immune system strong and prevents you from getting sick often.
- Not enough vitamin D may contribute to heart disease and cancer.
- It affects your mood and fights depression. It is important to brain function, and low levels of the vitamin may cause bad mood, lethargy, and tiredness.
How Can You Increase Vitamin D Levels?
There are 3 sources of vitamin D that all are equally important and need to be combined for optimal results
1. Sunlight Exposure
The best and most natural source of vitamin D is the UVB light from sunlight. In order for the vitamin D to synthesize in the skin, bare skin needs to be directly exposed to sunshine.
Glass blocks the UVB rays, and so does the sunscreen (even low SPF), so your vitamin D levels will not increase during your drive to work or if you regularly put on sunscreen. Keep in mind that longer exposure to the sun is dangerous and unhealthy, and may cause skin melanoma. 5 to 30 minutes per week are sufficient to keep you healthy.
During summer, most people produce sufficient vitamin D, but as the weather gets colder, not only there’s less sunshine, but we also tend to cover more and more of our skin and reduce the skin surface exposed to the sun.
People who live farther away from the Equator get even less sun. Moreover, people with darker skin have lower vitamin D concentrations as melanin reduces skin's ability to produce it.
2. Food High in Vitamin D
Vitamin D is found in some foods such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel), red meat, liver, eggs, and fortified foods - some cereal and dairy products. People on a strict vegan diet are most likely not consuming enough vitamin D and should consider supplements.
3. Vitamin Supplements
As it isn't easy to get enough sun exposure, especially in winter, and get enough vitamin D solely from food, 10 mcg (micrograms) is the recommended daily dosage.
It is recommended for babies and children (to ensure healthy bones and avoid bone deformation) and for people over 50, as, with age, the kidneys can no longer convert the chemicals to vitamin D as efficiently, and the absorption in the digestive tract is reduced.
Obese people, with a BMI of over 30, mostly suffer from hypovitaminosis D and should take supplements. Some research even shows that increasing vitamin D levels contributed to weight loss, most likely as increased calcium levels suppressed hunger.
Of course, we should point out that supplements are not nearly the same as getting the vitamin naturally from sunlight. Vitamin D, which is produced in the skin, lasts two times longer in the blood in comparison to the ingested one.
Every amount below 20 nanograms/milliliter is considered a deficiency, while 20-30 ng/ml are optimal.
If you think your vitamin D levels are low or you are experiencing any of the vitamin D deficiency symptoms, you are advised to see your doctor, who can determine with a simple blood test whether you need supplements.
Even though sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D, remember to protect yourself and do not overexpose. Only a short time in the sun is sufficient for vitamin D production, and there are way healthier methods to get a tan.