By: Megan Copeland, MS, CNS, LDN
Do you know if your vitamin D level is sufficient for optimal health? You might be surprised to know that more than 50% of Americans do not meet the dietary and lifestyle guidelines for this essential nutrient. Are you included in this statistic?
In winter, the distance between the earth and the sun increases. These shortened periods of daylight can have a profound effect on our overall well-being for several reasons; the main one being that our vitamin D levels decrease as our sunlight exposure lessens.
The Linus Pauling Institute states that vitamin D is a “nutrient of concern” because decreased production (from UVB rays) and consumption (of vitamin D rich foods and quality supplementation) are linked to adverse health outcomes.
What is Vitamin D and where do we get it?
Simply said, vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone that is synthesized in our skin upon exposure to the sun’s UVB rays. It is metabolized in the liver and kidneys into the active form called 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D and becomes calcitriol. Science-based literature states that once transformed into the active form, this essential “hormone” regulates hundreds of pathways. Vitamin D:
- facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus
- acts as an essential component in strengthening bones
- ensures proper immune system function
- influences cell development and growth
- plays a vital role in insulin secretion
Other research credits this super hormone as helping:
- Calm systemic inflammation
- Reduce chronic pain
- Energize metabolism
- Lessen depression/anxiety
- Reduce asthma and eczema occurrences
- Decrease the risk of high blood pressure
- Lower occurrence of autoimmune conditions (e.g. Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis)
What factors can limit my vitamin D levels?
There are a number of variables that affect the synthesis of this health-promoting hormone.
The skin’s synthesis of vitamin D is affected by:
- Geographic location (i.e. latitude and altitude), seasonal changes & weather
- Time of day
- Degree of skin pigmentation
- Age (e.g. infants & elderly)
- Amount of healthy skin exposed
- Application of Sunscreen
Other factors that diminish optimal vitamin D levels may include:
- Insufficient intake of vitamin D rich foods (e.g. wild-caught salmon, mackerel and sardines, fish liver oil, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed butter, mushrooms, fortified milk, juice and cereals, etc.)
- Medications (e.g. those that lower cholesterol, reduce weight, decrease stomach acid, are anti-inflammatory or anti-fungal and/or provide a laxative effect)
- Other medical conditions (e.g. GERD, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel, Kidney disease, etc.)
- Surgical outcomes (e.g. Gastric Bypass Surgery)
How can I optimize my vitamin D level?
It’s important to be mindful of your vitamin D level all year round; not just in the winter. Why? Because our vitamin D levels fluctuate. Optimizing your skin’s sunlight exposure in the spring and summer and consuming vitamin D rich foods all year long may reduce your risk of illness.
Often underestimated as a contributor to good health, vitamin D has been proven to be a key player in many processes in the body. Obtained from the sunlight’s UVB rays, food, and supplementation, this valuable vitamin’s circulating form, 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D, can be measured by your doctor ordering a simple laboratory test. Don’t be left in the dark when it comes to your optimal vitamin D level. Talk to your physician today about getting your level checked.
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