Need better sleep? Want strong bones?
How about a boost in testosterone? Or, an increase in lung function?
Maybe your immune system needs some support?
Vitamin D can be an answer to all of these needs and more!
But, while we typically get needed vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat, vitamin D can be a little atypical here.
Why? Because, naturally speaking, this vitamin can’t be gained in adequate amounts from our diet. Instead, our bodies make this beneficial vitamin when we spend enough time in the sun.
Many supplements have become available as well to provide more ways to ensure our bodies have optimal amounts of vitamin D.
Here we’ll take a look at what vitamin D is, why we need it, how much we need each day, and which is best, sunshine, supplementation, or both?
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can be absorbed in the lymph system and transported in the blood.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fatty tissues and your liver, which means that they can also build up and become toxic making it important to know just how much your body needs when it comes to these types of vitamins.
With vitamin D, rather than getting this vitamin from the foods you eat, your body makes it on its own after exposure to the sun, its main natural source.
And, why should you care?
Well, just take a look at the ways vitamin D can facilitate health within your body:
- Improves function in your nerves and muscles
- Regulates sex hormones
- Regulates blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Helps to keep insulin secretion at normal levels
- Keeps the immune system from overreacting (which causes inflammation)
- Prevents mood disorders
- Helps bones absorb calcium
- Impacts tumor growth, reducing the risk for certain cancers
- Facilitates brain function
Adversely, being deficient in vitamin D is commonly associated with numerous health concerns like:
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Infectious diseases
Being in the “year of corona,” it is also important to note that recent findings have shown 80% of Covid-19 patients were deficient in vitamin D, revealing just how crucial this vitamin is to your immune system.
So, how can you be sure you’re getting appropriate amounts of vitamin D, and where can you get it?
We mentioned earlier that vitamin D is unlike many other vitamins due to the fact that we can only get it naturally from sunlight.
The sunlight doesn’t contain the needed vitamin D, but our bodies use sunlight to make the amounts we need to keep our bodies healthy.
As the sun’s UV-B rays “hit” our skin, a substance (7-dehydrocholesterol) within the skin then transforms into vitamin D.
To get this vitamin from the sun, obviously you need to be outdoors in the sunlight (without sunscreen).
While out in the sunlight, your skin tone actually has a lot to do with how much vitamin D your body can absorb, which in turn dictates how much time you need to spend in the sunlight to receive optimal levels.
If you have fair skin, your body is able to make vitamin D from the sun more easily. Therefore, a recommended 10-20 minutes spent in the sunlight (between 11am – 3pm) is considered to be an ample amount of time to help your body produce needed levels of the vitamin (again, for those with fair skin).
For those with a darker skin tone, more spent in the sun is needed (40-60 minutes total) for your body to fully benefit.
It is important to note that when looking to optimize vitamin D levels through sun exposure, you aren’t seeking to burn or tan in the sun.
It is said that you can get enough vitamin D in roughly half the time it takes for your body to burn (or tan) in the sun.
But, some problems can arise when it comes to sun exposure alone as a source for vitamin D.
- Those that are more at risk for skin cancers are generally advised to fully cover up when out in the sun, or to use sunscreen, both of which inhibit vitamin D production from the sunlight as skin exposure is crucial.
- Depending on where you live, exposing your skin to sunlight proves difficult due to amounts of sunlight available and adverse weather conditions during certain times of year.
- For many, even in climates that allow for this throughout most of the year, opportunities for sun exposure are limited due to indoor job restraints. (Wouldn’t it all be nice if we could leave our desk or factory positions, etc. for ample vitamin D therapy each day?)
- Geographical location can determine the effectiveness of sun exposure as well.
And, it is precisely due to limitations of this nature that many seek out supplementation to achieve health-promoting levels of vitamin D.
Before we get to the actual supplements, there are a few foods that naturally contain forms of vitamin D, though in limited amounts.
- Vitamin D2 is a form of vitamin D that is found in certain mushrooms.
- Vitamin D3 is a form of vitamin D found in egg yolks, fish liver oil, and some oily fish like mackerel and salmon.
Both of these types of vitamin D can be used by your body, though sources of vitamin D3 are considered the ones that boost vitamin D production most within the body.
Most people seeking to ensure they are providing their bodies with optimal amounts of vitamin D do so through supplementation.
Similar to food sources, vitamin D supplements are generally found in two forms: D2 and D3.
Of the two, vitamin D3 is preferred as it is proven most effective at raising vitamin D levels in the blood, mirroring that of sunlight exposure.
Also, D2 supplements are found to be more likely to degrade during storage.
So, how much should you take?
Most recommendations center around 600-800 IUs per day for adults.
Though, if you are not getting any vitamin D from sunlight, some studies indicate that you may need higher than normal amounts from supplementation for your body to make appropriate levels.
So, the maximum amount, or “safe upper limit” for daily vitamin D3 supplementation is 4000 IUs.
Taking vitamin D supplements with a meal promotes absorption, and those absorption levels have even been found to increase when the meal is high in fat content.
Sunlight Or Supplementation
So, is there a better option: sun or supplements?
Honestly, the jury seems to be out when it boils down to the “this or that” selection here.
Research wise, the same health benefits are noted as long as the person gets the recommended amount from either time safely spent in the sun or taking the proper amount through supplementation daily.
However, with the growing number of dermatologists recommending the use of sunscreen during any exposure to the sun (you know, not just during kite flying, hiking, and beach days), many are leaning towards supplementation for being “the way to go” when it comes to maintaining proper vitamin D levels and reaping all the benefits this vitamin has to offer.
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