In recent months I’ve become more and more convinced of the need to avoid vitamin D deficiency.
If you don’t know much about vitamin D, I’m not surprised, because unlike high cholesterol for example, the pharmaceutical companies cannot peddle an expensive drug as a cure, therefore making them big bucks in the process. So, that means we hear very little about it, at least from the mainstream.
But, vitamin D is actually essential for life.
It controls several of the adrenal hormones. It is involved in the growth of cells, and the production of enzymes. And, there is an ever increasing list of diseases, which are connected with vitamin D deficiency, such as bone diseases, osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
How To Boost Your Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D From The Sun
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin,” because we can make it naturally from sunlight, or more specifically, UV-B, exposure to the skin. This initiates the conversion of cholesterol in the skin to vitamin D3.
There has, however, been considerable scaremongering in recent years, telling us to say away from the sun, with many people completely avoiding it, or covering themselves top to toe in sunblock, before going outside.
The fact that most of us have jobs and hobbies, which rarely see us outside soaking up the rays, adds to our lack of opportunity to boost vitamin D levels naturally.
However, the sun is your optimal source of natural vitamin D. Avoiding it could be having devastating consequences on your long-term health.
While I am stressing the importance of regular sun exposure here, you must realize a little is good, but a lot is NOT better. So, you should never, ever, allow your skin to get burned
Sunburn is related to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, research suggests that as long as you avoid getting burned, regular sun exposure actually decreases the risk of skin cancer (except for skin type one).
So, how much vitamin D is needed?
A recent 2011 study, by Garland et al, found:
That daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4000-8000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce, by about half, the risk of several diseases — breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. Source
Grassroots, an international consortium of vitamin D experts, give these guidelines for vitamin D status:
- Vitamin D (25(OH)D) blood levels below 80 nmol/L are not adequate for any body system.
- Levels of as high as 125 nmol/L may be closer to optimal.
- Inputs from all sources combined are in the range of ~4,000 IU/day to sustain 80 nmol/L, and ~5,000 IU/day to sustain 100 nmol/L.
They suggest an average of 5,000 IU per day for adults is needed to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D in the blood.
How much time you need to spend in the sun depends on your latitude, your skin type, and your body weight. So, the further you live from the equator, the darker your skin, and the more weight you carry, the more sun exposure you will require to maintain healthy blood levels.
You also need to be aware that if you use sunscreens and sunblocks they will block the production of vitamin D.
Vitamin D Calculator
If you want to work out how much sun exposure you need for a healthy vitamin D status, here is a calculator, created by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.
This calculator will give you an estimate of how many minutes you need to spend outside, to produce 25 mcg (the equivalent of 1,000 IU) of vitamin D. Bear in mind, this is to maintain healthy vitamin D status, so if you are vitamin D deficient, you may need more.
If you live outside of Europe, you can find your latitude and longitude here, which you can then enter into the calculator manually. The time of day is in UTC (Greenwich Mean Time), so if you live elsewhere, you will need to convert to your local time, and manually enter that, too.
I live in Northern Ireland, and have fair skin, so the calculator estimates I need 8 minutes to produce 1,000 IU of vitamin D. At this time of year, that means I need around 40 minutes outside, to get the recommended 5,000 IU of vitamin D for adults, which I mentioned above.
What a lovely excuse to go outside and enjoy the sunshine! :-)
If you live in sub-tropical areas, or get lots of summer sun exposure on your skin, it is wise to avoid taking vitamin D supplements, unless you regularly monitor your blood levels of vitamin D.
For most people in the UK and America, vitamin D supplements will be required from September through to April to maintain optimal blood levels. Again, the only way to be sure is to have your vitamin D blood levels measured.
As a general guideline, the time needed to make sufficient vitamin D in your body, is typically shorter, and less, than the amount of time it takes for your skin to redden and burn.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you decide to take vitamin D supplements, there are some guidelines, which you need to follow to make it safe and worthwhile.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so it must be taken with fat to be properly absorbed. This means you need to take an oil-based vitamin D preparation, as opposed to a dry preparation, such as tablets and capsules.
The second thing you need to look out for, is the type of vitamin D contained in the product. You want to take D3. This is what your body uses and prefers. Do not purchase a pill containing D2.
The problem with taking vitamin D supplements is that you can reach toxic levels (this won’t happen when you get your vitamin D from the sun). This is why I am emphasizing the need to get blood tests taken regularly. Once every 6 months will be adequate.
Vitamin D In The Diet
Vitamin D sources in the diet are limited, and so these will make up a very small source of what your body actually needs.
These dietary sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel), liver, meat, eggs, margarine, breakfast cereals, and fish oil. I do not recommend fish oil, however, due to the vitamin A content.
Vitamin D In Summary
Here are the steps you need to follow to optimize your vitamin D level, and improve your health as a result:
- During the months from April through to September try to get some sun exposure at least every other day.
- If you cannot get sun exposure year round, take an oil-based vitamin D3 supplement, but remember to have your blood levels tested every 6 months, to avoid toxicity.
- Your aim is to reach a vitamin D (25(OH)D) blood level of 50–80 ng/ml (125–200 nmol/L).
If you have contraindications, please discuss your vitamin D needs with your family doctor before taking supplements.
Do you normally avoid the sun? Have you thought about taking vitamin D supplements in the past?