If you are reading this indoors after a long day at a desk job- this article is for you! Vitamin D deficiency is definitely on the rise. I have joined the ranks of physicians who routinely screen for Vitamin D deficiency and are aggressive prescribers of Vitamin D supplements.
I thought we get enough Vitamin D from drinking a glass of milk or eating some cheese?
Dairy products are a great start. Most foods that can supplement Vitamin D are fortified with that vitamin. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are very few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in dairy products, some meat products, egg yolks, mushrooms, fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna and sardines and some fortified cereals and juices. A cup of milk averages about 100 IUs of Vitamin D. However, this is not enough for you to maintain a healthy storage of Vitamin D.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is important because it helps regulate calcium and phosphorus. These two minerals are crucial for bone health and stability. Without Vitamin D and calcium, bones can become thin, brittle, bend and break. You have heard of rickets and osteoporosis, right? Vitamin D has also been linked with cardiovascular health; preventing autoimmune diseases; improving skin conditions such as psoriasis or vitiligo; and may help in reducing asthma exacerbations. Vitamin D’s importance in regulating immune systems may be the reason why persons with adequate levels have lower risks of cancer. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked with weight gain in older women.
How do I increase my Vitamin D levels?
Our bodies can use sunlight to activate Vitamin D in our skin to a form that can then do the wonderful work that I just described. Just fifteen minutes of sunlight on your face arms, legs, hands, (without sunscreen!) a couple of times a week is on average enough to replenish Vitamin D stores. More sun is needed depending upon the area that you live, cloud cover, smog, and your melanin content in your skin. The sunlight that reaches us indoors cannot cause the biochemical changes necessary to activate Vitamin D so that it can do its work. Once activated, we store Vitamin D within our fat cells, until it is needed.
You can also increase your Vitamin D levels by taking supplements. First, you need to determine whether your Vitamin D levels are insufficient (< 30 nmol/L) or deficient ( < 25 nmol/L). This test can be added on to your usual laboratory testing for cholesterol, glucose, liver and kidney functions. Make sure that the lab is testing for 25(OH)D, which according to the National Institutes of Health, is the best indicator of Vitamin D status. Second, depending upon your age level, you can buy supplements over the counter or get a prescription for your physician. When my patients are Vitamin D deficient- I usually will write for a high weekly supplement dose for eight weeks and then retest. Example- Vitamin D2- 50, 000 IUs one time per week for eight weeks. I will then write for a daily supplement of 400 IU, 600 IU or 800 IU depending upon whether they are less than 50 years of age, between 50-70 or greater than 70 years of age, respectively. If my patients are Vitamin D insufficient, I just write for the daily supplement. I also tell my patients who are Vitamin D deficient or insufficient to get the required amount of sunlight. Don’t stay unprotected in the sun too long and run the risk of melanoma or basal cell carcinomas. But.. that is another article.