Spring is ALMOST (!) here, but as we start to leave winter behind, I wanted to discuss a vitamin that most of us become quite low in around this time of the year due to a lack of sun exposure. That vitamin is, of course, vitamin D.
Honestly, despite its name, vitamin D functions more like a hormone in the body. It controls a couple hundred gene expressions and the associated proteins those genes regulate. It is required for mineral metabolism, which in turn effects our bone mineralization and growth. Vitamin D is also a key player in keeping our immune system strong, while also helping to decrease inflammation in the body, especially in those who suffer from autoimmune conditions. Serotonin release and vitamin D are also intricately linked, as serotonin is required not only for mental health, but also for healthy digestion (which in turn allows us to properly digest the minerals and nutrients from our foods, and the cycle goes round and round). Lastly, vitamin D helps with cell growth, making it essential in the healing and cell renewal process. And that's just the start of all that vitamin D does for our bodies!
The best source of vitamin D is obviously from the sun. Food sources include mushrooms, eggs, and organ meats, but even then those sources are limited. Your best bet is to aim for 5-15 minutes of unprotected skin exposure to the sun as often as possible (depending on your propensity to burn, which is not the goal here).
Typical blood tests will list 30ng/ml or above as an acceptable level of vitamin D in the body. However, more research is coming out to push that number a little high, more in the range of 40-60ng/ml. Testing your vitamin D is pretty simple and a standard blood test typically will include it.
Insufficient vitamin D levels put us at risk for earlier mortality and a host of diseases including a variety of cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, Alzheimer's, macular degeneration, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Most of our cells and organs have vitamin D receptors; therefore, it makes sense that a myriad of diseases can be traced back to low vitamin D levels.
Supplementing with high-quality vitamin D can be helpful for those who can't get adequate sun exposure or whose levels are very, very low. But remember, the body synthesizes vitamins and minerals in their real food form, which in this case is the sun, so it might not respond as well to a supplement. Brands of vitamin D that I like (following a doctors recommendation) include:
It's hard to get the amount of sun exposure we need during the winter months or if we work inside without access to sunlight most days of the week. But, with spring and summer fast approaching, let this be your time to help boost your overall health and longevity by getting some much needed sun sooner rather than later!
Source: Paleo Principles by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne