Recently I have been getting a number of emails with questions about vitamin D; I’m sure it’s generated by all of the press about the changing recommended levels, levels of exposure and how important it is for our health.
Where to get Vitamin D
Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin” is a fat-soluble vitamin produced in the skin by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) type B rays. For food sources we can look to fatty fish and eggs as a good source of vitamin D. It is often added to milk.
I have a personal theory that part of the reason behind the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency is that our parents were forced to take cod liver oil by their parents. They hated it so much they decided not to give it to their kids. The science of the times did not recognize how important cod liver oil was and it was considered “old-fashioned.” As a result of this, I, and many others of my generation, grew up not taking it. So we didn’t give it to our kids. While I’m not sure how much scientific veracity there is to that theory it certainly seems to fit the current situation. Decreased cod liver oil consumption combined with reduced sunshine/increased sunscreen and suddenly many people, including pregnant women and their infants, are deficient.
The importance of Vitamin D
Why all of the scientific attention to vitamin D lately? It turns out that it’s very important for our health and there are significant consequences to being deficient. Not only does vitamin D help support our bone structure, it’s vital to immune system health, increasing activity of our natural killer cells and macrophages. Many studies now show that it may help protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and there are even suggestions that vitamin D deficiency may be a contributing factor to increased influenza rates during the winter months.
How much should I take?
One question I recently received about vitamin D was concerned with how much to take:
“I was taking 400 IU but a while back started reading about re-examined attitudes toward D and upped it to 2,000 IU. Then I thought that might be too much so I am currently taking 1,000 IU. Your thoughts?”
Here’s a little information to help you understand vitamin D better.
I believe, and the studies support, that we do not get enough and that the levels set by the government are too low. If you wear sunscreen you need to be aware that SPF8 and over will effectively block UV-B; this means your body cannot synthesize D from sunlight.
If you do not get enough outdoor exposure, are over 60 years of age (our ability to synthesize D decreases as we age), and/or live in northern latitudes you are probably not getting enough vitamin D. Someone who lives in New England or further north generally does not get sufficient vitamin D during the winter months and can become deficient. Especially if they did not have sufficient stores to begin with.
How to find out if you need more? You need to get a blood test. It is important to get the 1,25 OH-dihydroxy, not the 25(OH) vitamin D to find out what your levels are. Taking between 2,000-5,000 IU per day is not unreasonable, especially in the winter.
Osteomalacia (vitamin D deficiency) is often treated with 5,000-50,000 IU for three to six months. Once a good level is reached doctors usually drop people to 1,500-2,000 per day. Most doctors aim for at least 30-40 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter) although many Functional Medicine practitioners prefer a level of 50-80 ng/dL. It is important to note that too much vitamin D can be just as bad for you as too little, which is why it is important to get tested and know what your levels are.
How to get vitamin D
When you take vitamin D is it best to take it as vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) combined with K2 which is the most effective form. D2 (ergocalciferol) is not as effective.
I personally prefer to take a sublingual D3/K2 liquid formulation to make sure that I am getting the best possible absorption. A combined liquid formulation also ensures that I am getting a synergistic balance of the proper amounts of D3 to K2.
The very best way to get your vitamin D? Get sunshine. Whenever possible get 15-20 minutes per day before you put on your sunscreen.
Here are a few other resources which provide good information about vitamin D: