It’s no secret that vitamins are essential components of health. The body is an intricate, connected organism that operates at a microscope level making highly sophisticated interactions using different molecules to carry out specific tasks. Vitamins and minerals assist these interactions by supporting the development of necessary compounds and structures in the body that keep systems running smoothly. Among other important nutrients, vitamin D is a primary piece of the landscape of elements needed to support overall health. Typically, the body receives vitamin D naturally from food and through direct exposure to sunlight. However, too much exposure to sunlight can be detrimental to health, so a delicate balance must be made to maintain optimal health.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important part in keeping the body functioning properly. One if its primary roles is to support the absorption of calcium to help build strong bones, teeth, and muscles. It also aids the absorption of phosphorus and magnesium, two significant minerals needed for good health. Vitamin D helps enable proper functioning of the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and immune system. Vitamin D is also anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective (meaning it protects the nervous system and its components) and is an antioxidant. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D through food or supplements depends on age and sex. Typically, most adults should get between 1,000-2,000 international units per day, though a higher amount may be required for those who are chronically low based on blood test results.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency worldwide. An estimated 1 billion people around the world have low blood levels of vitamin D and more than 40% of Americans are deficient. Deficiencies are disproportionately high within societies that exhibit lifestyles that are largely spent indoors and in geographic locations that get less sunlight during the day, such as countries far from the equator. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to brittle bones, muscle pain, and a weakened immune system, which makes it important to stay mindful of how much vitamin D you are getting from food and the environment. Symptoms of chronically low vitamin D can range from bone and muscle pain to unexplained fatigue, getting sick often, depression, impaired wound healing, hair loss, weight gain, and anxiety. A blood test can indicate with more certainty whether or not a deficiency is of concern. On the other hand, too much vitamin D can also cause health issues, as vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and can be stored in tissues over time. While it is not as common as a deficiency, excess vitamin D can cause irritability, nausea and vomiting, kidney damage, and bone pain.
Sources of Vitamin D
The main way the body receives Vitamin D is through sun exposure. The skin absorbs light from the sun and converts cholesterol into vitamin D. Clouds, smog, windows or shade inhibit the body from absorbing sunlight which subsequently does not lead to the production of vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D converted from sunlight in the body can vary from person to person. In addition to individuals who rarely go outside or live in places with limited sunlight, those who have darker skin, are older, are overweight, have certain chronic diseases, and those who are on statins or steroids may have difficulties getting vitamin D from the sun.
Sources of Vitamin D other than the sun
While sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D, too much sun exposure can be harmful to health. Exposure to UVA and UVB light from the sun is directly linked to skin damage and skin cancers. Individuals who are concerned with too much sun exposure may wonder how to get vitamin D without the sun. There are actually only a few ways of getting vitamin D through food, including consuming fish, eggs and fortified dairy products. Another primary way to receive vitamin D is through supplementation. Supplements come in many forms, including pills, powders, and liquid vitamins. A functional medicine provider can assess the need for vitamin D supplementation in the context of a patient’s comprehensive health profile.
It is important to be mindful of getting enough vitamins and minerals daily through diet and lifestyle. If you are curious about your vitamin D levels, schedule a Meet & Greet with one of our providers to learn more about testing and our personalized approach to supplementation.