You’ve probably heard Vitamin D called the “sunshine vitamin”. But what does that actually mean? And how does Vitamin D support a healthy body and mind?
Today, we will discuss all the basics about this essential nutrient and share everything you need to know to get more Vitamin D into your life.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins. The other three fat-soluble vitamins are A, E, and K. This means that Vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat stores and liver.
Vitamin D is different from all the other vitamins. That’s because the body produces most of this vitamin instead of getting most of it from food sources.
How does the body make its own Vitamin D? This is where the “sunshine” comes in.
Every person has a substance called melanin in their bodies. In fact, it determines how dark or light your skin is. Individuals with darker skin have high amounts of melanin. Individuals with fair skin have less melanin.
The fairer the skin type, the easier it is for the body to produce Vitamin D. When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the skin can release more melanin since it doesn’t already have so much of it.
The more sunshine you have, the more melanin released in the skin. Then, the cholesterol in the skin takes this newly released melanin and converts it into different chemicals.
But the skin doesn’t simply take sunshine and make Vitamin D with it. Instead, the cholesterol within the skin produces Vitamin D3, also known as provitamin D. With Vitamin D3 as the starting point, the body turns it into a substance it can use, called calcitriol.
Another special thing about Vitamin D is that it also becomes a hormone. As you can see, Vitamin D is a bit more complex than other vitamins.
Difference Between Vitamin D, Vitamin D2, and Vitamin D3
It’s not unheard of for there to be different types of the same vitamin. Vitamin B, for example, has eight different types (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12). However, when it comes to Vitamin B, all of these vitamins are obtainable from food sources.
This isn’t the case for Vitamin D, however. As we now know, the body produces Vitamin D. And in the earliest stages of Vitamin D production, the body first makes the provitamin, Vitamin D3, before it can be utilized throughout the rest of the body.
But you probably see and hear about Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 supplements. What’s the deal with these two forms of Vitamin D?
Vitamin D2 is a man-made substance made with irradiating yeast, as well as other molds. In short, Vitamin D2 is a vegetarian option.
The body can utilize some of this vitamin, but it’s not the best option for human nutrition.
Vitamin D3 is also manmade, but this one is made from animal sources, including irradiating animal oils and cholesterol. The body prefers this type of Vitamin D.
That’s because it’s closer to the type of Vitamin D that the body produces on its own.
What Does Vitamin D Do for You?
Vitamin D plays many important roles in the body. Without Vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium. And as we all know, calcium is crucial for healthy bones.
But Vitamin D isn’t just a bone-friendly nutrient. It plays a role in preventing cancer, like breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Mental health is also deeply affected by Vitamin D, and so are the cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and immune systems. There may even be a connection between vitamin D and depression.
As you’ll see below, without Vitamin D, the body is very vulnerable to many serious health conditions. If you’re wondering what is vitamin D good for, you’ll find it’s one of the most essential vitamins you should definitely prioritize.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
Dr. Josh Axe shares many of the health problems that research links to a deficiency in this sunshine vitamin. Here they are:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chronic pain
- Depression, including seasonal depression
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Osteopenia (weak bones)
It’s clear that a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to some pretty serious health problems. So, it’s crucial to take steps to keep your Vitamin D levels high. And if you’re worried about having too much Vitamin D, you shouldn’t be.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), it’s estimated that a whopping 90 percent of American adults are Vitamin D deficient. Chances are, you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, too. And to be sure, having your primary care doctor run a test to determine your levels is a good idea.
Who’s at Risk for a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Research shows that certain people are at greater risk of having a Vitamin D deficiency.
People of color who have darker skin pigments are most at risk. However, even fair-skinned individuals suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency, too. This is especially true if you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sun most of the year, or if you spend most of your time indoors.
In general, vitamin D deficiency is mostly caused by lack of natural sunlight, so if you’re wondering how to increase vitamin D levels, sunlight may be the key.
How Much Sunshine Do You Need to Produce Enough Vitamin D?
Since our bodies need sunlight to produce Vitamin D, it’s important to know how much sunlight exposure you should have for optimal levels of this sunshine vitamin.
The amount of time you need depends on your skin type. For fair skin types to start producing Vitamin D, they need about 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. For darker skin types, this number increases, and they can spend up to an hour in the sun.
For these time periods, it’s best to go without sunscreen to ensure your skin can produce melanin and, therefore, Vitamin D.
It’s important to remember that not all sunlight exposure is the same. For example, the sunlight can be most harsh during midday, so it’s a good idea to avoid getting your Vitamin D fix at lunchtime
So, what’s the best time to expose your body to natural sunlight? When you go outside, take a look at your shadow. If it’s shorter than you, this is a great time to seek some sunshine.
Do Sunscreens Interfere With the Body’s Vitamin D Production?
We are encouraged to wear sunscreen all year long – not just during the hot summer months. It’s even in makeup and skincare products. And even though we’re supposed to wear sunscreens to help prevent skin cancer, wearing them carries another health risk.
Research shows that a sunblock of just SPF 8 can lower the body’s Vitamin D production by up to 90 percent. With an SPF of 30 or more, the body’s Vitamin D production can be reduced to 99 percent.
In short, sunscreens can actually cancel your body’s Vitamin D production, and as we now know, that’s a serious problem. As you’ll remember, the list of Vitamin D-deficiency health problems is full of serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and depression.
It might be a good idea to make an effort to go sunscreen-free for a short time each day to ensure that your body can produce the Vitamin D it needs.
Foods With Vitamin D
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to spend adequate time outdoors to get all the sunshine our bodies need. But the truth is, that’s not always possible. Most of our activities take place indoors. What’s worse is that if you live in areas that don’t see a lot of sun, you can spend months without getting enough Vitamin D.
To help boost your Vitamin D levels throughout the year, focus on foods rich in vitamin D. During winter months, it’s imperative to put these foods on your plate.
Here are a few vitamin D rich foods to choose from:
- Cod liver oil
- Fatty fish, like sardines, salmon, and mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Raw milk
- Beef liver
Liver is considered one of the best vitamin D sources, though fatty fish is also one of the greatest natural sources of vitamin D. Both of these foods are easy to implement into your daily diet and can support your vitamin D levels, whether it’s sunny or not.
Unfortunately, vegans may not have so many good sources of vitamin D available. Mushrooms are known as the best vitamin D vegetables, but it’s likely you need to supplement vitamin D (plus, get enough natural sunlight).
Best Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D-rich foods are pretty easy to find and enjoy. But when it comes to finding a Vitamin D supplement, it gets a little more complicated. That’s because there are just so many options available.
Knowing where to start if you would like to include a vitamin D supplement in your daily diet can be confusing. To give you some ideas, here are three bestsellers that you can trust.
NatureWise Vitamin D3 4000iu
This 100% natural formula is made with non-GMO ingredients, cold-pressed organic olive oil, and is gluten-free. Plus, your body prefers this form of Vitamin D (Vitamin D3).
Garden Of Life D3 – Vitamin Code
This supplement is perfect for vegetarians who avoid animal-based sources of Vitamin D. Along with raw whole food sources, the formula also includes raw probiotics and enzymes to boost the digestive system.
Sports Research High Potency Vitamin D3, 5,000 IU
This supplement offers the same biologically active type of Vitamin D that the body itself produces. The formula is made with all non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients, along with coconut oil, to help boost the body’s absorption of this fat-soluble vitamin.
Before you add Vitamin D supplements to your diet, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor to learn your current Vitamin D levels. This can help you determine how frequently you should take the supplement.
Even though Vitamin D is a sunshine vitamin, we still need it year-round, rain or shine so, whenever you can, spend a short amount of time in natural sunlight to kickstart your body’s Vitamin D production.
And during darker, sunless seasons, add vitamin D foods and supplements to your diet to ensure you always have enough of this super important nutrient.