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What you didn't know about Vitamin D

I was talking to a friend the other day about new research that has come out showing a relationship between low Vitamin D levels and severe symptoms from Covid-19. While these studies are preliminary and could show a correlational, rather than causal, relationship, it did make me think about the importance of this vitamin. We hear all the time that getting enough Vitamin D is good for our health, but maybe you don't know the impacts it actually has on our body. Vitamin D helps with calcium intake to keep your bones strong, increases immune system response, and can even help with weight loss. Plus my favorite side effect: decrease in mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Vitamin D levels less than 12 ng/mL can lead to rickets, or softening of the bones, and is still very rare in the US. However, according to this article in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology approximately 1 billion people worldwide have levels of Vitamin D that fall below the recommended minimim 20 ng/mL. So while we may not be getting rickets anytime soon, there can be long-term effects of insufficient Vitamin D levels including:

  • Mood disorders

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Increase in inflammatory markers

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Decreased immunity

Since insufficient levels of Vitamin D are fairly common and there is a lot of misinformation floating around, I thought I would clear up some of the common misconceptions about Vitamin D.

Myth #1: If I spend some time outside, I will get enough Vitamin D

According to a conversation I recently had with my doctor, it takes about 1 hour of full-body sunlight without sunscreen every day to produce your daily vitamin D requirements. I know for a fact this isn't happening for me! I live in Colorado where the sun is really strong so I am constantly lathering on sunscreen in the summer, or bunded up against the cold and snow in the winter. In addition to wearing sunscreen, if you have darker skin you likely do not produce enough Vitamin D since the melanin reduces the amount of UVB rays that are absorbed, and therefore reduces the amount of Vitamin D you produce. And if you are over 40 like I am, your body's ability to produce Vitamin D is not what it was in your 20s. So unless you are a 25 year old who lives on the equator and spends every day in a bikini without sunscreen, you likely won't get enough Vitamin D from sun exposure.

Myth #2: I eat a well-balanced diet so I get all the nutrients I need

Because there are only a few foods that have Vitamin D (some fish, eggs, milk and other dairy products, and liver) it can be difficult to get from diet alone. It is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning it needs fat to get into your bloodstream) so if you are not eating foods rich in Vitamin D with high-fat foods, the vitamin may not get properly absorbed into your bloodstream. Getting Vitamin D can be especially hard for people who eat a vegan diet or who avoid dairy products. If you are choosing to eat more foods rich in Vitamin D, wild caught fish is your best bet, followed by farm raised fish, fortified milk, and finally eggs.

Myth #3: I only need to supplement if I am "at risk" or during the winter

It was once thought that only young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and adults over 65 needed to take Vitamin D supplements, and many countries only recommended supplementation during winter months. However, because of the increased use of sunscreen and the evidence that health adults are not getting enough Vitamin D, many health organizations worldwide are now recommending that people of all ages take Vitamin D year-round to prevent the effects of inadequate levels.

While Vitamin D supplements are generally safe for most people, always consult with a doctor first to have your levels evaluated to determine what is right for you. Getting too much Vitamin D can have nasty side effects such as nausea, constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If you want more tips on easy ways to improve your health, download the FREE Clean Eating Guide for my favorite recipes, foods, and supplements to keep your gut and brain healthy!

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