Vitamin D is increasingly reported on in the news as
being a vitamin that many Americans are deficient in, and yet is extremely important for good health. Many people know that Vitamin D is important along with calcium for healthy bones, and we have heard more recently about its role in preventing cancer, but did you know there are many more benefits to having optimal vitamin D levels?
Vitamin D Affects Bones and Also Many Genes
This is because Vitamin D affects various genes in our cells throughout our bodies. This is why it can have an impact on so many different body systems. In addition to helping with cancer prevention and strong bones, research also shows that Vitamin D has an impact on:
- Healing cells and tissues
- Influenza (flu) & viruses like the Common Cold
- Heart Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
Many people have the mistaken notion that as long as they go out in the sun from time to time, they will not be deficient in Vitamin D. However, this is simply not the case. In fact, many researchers think they are seeing an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency, probably due in no small part to the constant reminders we have to stay out of the sun from 10-2pm and to use chemical sunblock and/or clothing to keep the UV rays from being absorbed by our body. Unfortunately, it is these very same rays that help our body to manufacture Vitamin D, so if we are avoiding them, we are not making much vitamin D from the sun.
Vitamin D From the Sun
Your body can make a lot of Vitamin D just from being out in the sun. However, it is important to follow certain guidelines:
- In the Northern Hemisphere, you need to be out in the sun from April to September.
- We make the most Vitamin D when the rays are the strongest: 10-3pm - do NOT avoid these times for your sunbathing.
- The more skin that is exposed, the more Vitamin D you will make.
- If much of your skin is exposed (ie, you are in a bathing suit), you may be able to make 10-20,000 IU’s with just 10 minutes on each side if you are light skinned.
- It is still important to avoid getting burned, as that damages your skin.
- Things like cloudiness, pollution, and the shade of your skin can affect the amount of vitamin D your body makes. If you have a tan, it may take more time.
- Do NOT use sunscreen for your vitamin D sunbathing - it blocks out the rays that make the D.
If you are able to go out in the sunshine on a regular basis, following these guidelines, in the spring, summer and fall, you might want to test your blood levels of vitamin D at the end of September, or in October, depending how far south you live. Your levels should be pretty high at this time, if you want to make it through the winter without getting too low.
Vitamin D Blood Levels - What is Optimal?
There is a lot of varied opinion out there on what constitutes optimal blood levels of Vitamin D. You might want to know first of all, that the minimum levels on your blood test are probably too low. Many put the lower cutoff at 20ng/ml, but that is really far from optimum. Even though many lab ranges will tell you 20ng/ml to 56ng/ml are normal, you really want to fall in the higher end of that range. Many alternative health care practitioners agree that 20 is very deficient, and you really should never fall below 32 ng/ml.
Especially if you test in the fall, like we suggest, it really should be much higher, like 50ng/ml. Dr. Mercola recommends 50-70 ng/ml, higher if you have cancer. Other alternative health care practitioners have recommended 50-80 ng/ml. Make sure and ask your doctor for a copy of the results, they may just tell you it is normal, or within the range, even if it is, say 25 ng/ml.
If you have insurance, ask if they will cover this test; if not, you might want to do a home test where you prick your finger, and send the drop or two of blood on to the lab for your own results. One lab that does this is ZRT. Current cost is $75 if you order directly from them.
Make sure and take the most accurate test, which is 25(OH)D, also sometimes called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. If your blood levels are low, you need to either get some summer sun in the middle of the day or take a Vitamin D supplement, but make sure and use only the natural kind: Vitamin D3!
Vitamin D Supplements? Necessary? Beneficial?
We highly recommend testing your blood levels of vitamin D in order to find out if you even need supplementation. Some people have very low levels, and unless you can spend some time sunbathing in the middle of the day on most days in the summer, you may have a hard time get5ting your levels back up to optimum before the middle of the fall. In this case, we highly recommend supplementation, but only with natural vitamin D, called D3.
Depending on how low your levels are, you may want to add 2-6000 IU’s of vitamin D3 to your diet, and check your blood levels again in 2 months. Some people have a harder time than others making vitamin D from sun exposure, and some people have a harder time absorbing and utilizing the vitamin D in supplement form than other people do, so the only way to really know is to test. It does help some to take their vitamin D with food, especially with some fat, as it is a fat soluble vitamin.
Some foods that are high in vitamin D include fatty fish and fish oil, cod liver oil, mushrooms, and egg yolks and lard from animals out in the sun.
Many people take fish oil in the summer while they are out in the sun, and cod liver oil in the winter, to make sure and get enough Vitamin D as well as enough essential omega 3 fatty acids.