Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients we can’t get enough of from food. Our bodies are designed to make vitamin D from sunlight, yet modern life has made that difficult. The result is a worldwide deficiency in vitamin D, even in sunny locations.
Why we can’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin
While some foods contain vitamin D, our main source is sun exposure which we synthesize utilizing cholesterol.
However, certain factors stand in the way:
Reduced sun exposure. We spend far fewer hours outside than our ancestors and slather on sunscreen when we are outside. People with dark skin or who live farther north have even less ability to make vitamin D from sunlight.
Limited diet. Most people don’t eat the foods that contain vitamin D, such as organ meats, salmon and fish liver oil, and egg yolks. Two foods fortified with vitamin D, dairy and breakfast cereals (gluten and grains), are common immune reactive foods many choose to avoid.
Gut inflammation and fat malabsorption. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. When the gut is inflamed due to leaky gut and other inflammatory gut disorders, fat absorption is compromised and your vitamin D levels suffer.
Stress. High cortisol levels from chronic stress can deplete vitamin D levels.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:
- Muscle, joint and bone pain
- Gum disease
- Brittle or soft bones
- Digestive issues
- Suppressed immune system
What vitamin D does for you
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and along with thyroid hormone, is one of the two hormones every cell in your body needs. It regulates hundreds of different pathways throughout the body.
Bone density. Vitamin D has long been known to play a role in preventing breakdown of bones and increasing the strength of the skeletal system.
Mood regulation. Low vitamin D is linked to a 14 percent increase depression and a 50 percent increase in suicide rates. Increasing vitamin D intake can help improve anxiety and depression.
Brain health. Vitamin D’s biologically active form has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques common to Alzheimer’s Disease. Associations have also been noted between low 25-hydroxyvitamin D and dementia.
Reduced cancer risk. Optimal vitamin D levels are associated with lower rates of cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, and pancreas.
Sleep quality. Adequate vitamin D is associated with improved sleep.
Immune regulation. Vitamin D plays a key role in promoting regulatory T cells, which decide whether to dampen or promote inflammation in the body.
This is particularly important in dampening autoimmunity, when the immune system attacks body tissue.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Parkinson’s disease. Studies show more than 90 percent of those with autoimmunity have a genetic defect that promotes vitamin D deficiency.
A common thread in all chronic illnesses, inflammation is shown to be reduced by adequate vitamin D levels.
Ways to boost vitamin D
Sunshine. Get 20 to 60 minutes of sun on your skin per day, depending on your skin tone and latitude. The more skin exposed, the more D you produce.
Food sources. Include salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and egg yolks in your diet.
Supplementation. Vitamin D exists in two forms, D2 and D3.
While vitamin D2 is commonly seen on mainstream vitamin labels, vitamin D3 is twice as effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body.
Current mainstream dosage guidelines for vitamin D are based solely on maintaining proper bone density and not preventing chronic health conditions.
Since vitamin D is fat soluble, it’s recommended to take it in an oil-based soft gel capsule or liquid form with a meal that includes fat.
For autoimmune management, doses of vitamin D can range from 5,000 to 10,000 IU per day. Some people take higher doses if their genetics hamper absorption. It’s best to test your levels every three to six months.
Emulsified vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) enhances absorption and helps prevent toxicity at higher doses.
Support fat metabolism with digestive enzymes
If you have leaky gut, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or have had your gall bladder removed, your ability to absorb fat may be compromised. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, make sure your body can absorb it by adding digestive enzymes to your daily regimen.