They call it the sunny vitamin. During the summer days, you can get plenty of vitamin D.
However, during the winter months, there are not many sunny days. And that means there is no good source for vitamin D. Vitamin D is a proven booster for your health, so it is important to get loads of it.
How can you source it? And which health conditions are related to vitamin D?
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, you must first understand that vitamin D is not, in fact, a vitamin. Instead, vitamin D is a neuroregulatory steroid hormone that has a key role to play in your overall health.
Getting enough vitamin D can reduce the risk of several diseases by 50%. Just so you know, vitamin D affects 3,000 of 24,000 genes in your body.
That being said, let’s take a look at several conditions affected by the vitamin.
As mentioned, vitamin D affects 3,000 of your 24,000 genes. That is 1/8 of your total genes.
One of those genes is the gene that fights chronic inflammation and infection. This gene enhances the production of 200 antimicrobial peptides. And vitamin D regulates its production, which is the reason the vitamin helps with the common cold and influenza.
Just to name a few conditions that vitamin D can help with:
- Reduces pregnancy risk
- Reduces the risk of diabetes 1 and diabetes 2
- Reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease
- Reduces the chances of getting a viral or bacterial infection
- Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and similar brain disorders
It all comes down to the gene activity. Patients with the disease have low serum vitamin D levels.
Studies showed out of seven DNA sequence variations, two were associated with vitamin D levels. That means that depending on your level of the sunshine vitamin, the symptoms can either worsen or improve.
Pain and Depression
You do not need many studies to know this. When the sun is shining, you feel better. Once the winter months hit, you instantly feel depressed, or at least melancholic.
Now, while you cannot get much vitamin D during the winter months, or when it rains, you can source vitamin D from food or supplements.
One study, in particular, showed that vitamin D supplements can reduce symptoms of depression in women.
During the study, women were examined for neuropathic pain and sensory pain. At the beginning, 61% reported neuropathic pain, and 74% reported sensory pain.
They were given vitamin D2 supplement once a week for six months. By the end of the study, all participants experienced lower levels of depression.
According to the lead scientist, vitamin D can help treat depression, as well as pain caused by type 2 diabetes.
Signs of vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is just as important to our overall health as vitamin C and other vitamins. When we do not get enough of this vitamin, our body cannot function properly.
Your body will send you some signals that you have vitamin D deficiency, and you need to do something about it. Here are common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
Getting sick or infected often
The primary function and role of vitamin D is keeping your immune system strong. Vitamin C is considered immune system booster, but vitamin D is also important for fighting off viruses and bacteria.
Vitamin D directly interacts with the cells that fight off infections. When your levels are low, you will become sick and infected often.
Impaired wound healing
Your body cannot fight off infections, but it also heals slower when you do not have adequate levels of vitamin D. Slow healing of wounds is a sign that your vitamin D levels are low. And that is especially troubling after a surgery.
There are many causes for fatigue and tiredness. It is one of the most common symptoms, which is why it is hard to determine what the problem is. But when fatigue is accompanied by other vitamin D deficiency symptoms, you know the problem.
Studies show that vitamin D affects the blood levels in our body. And when these levels are low, fatigue is the result.
Bone and back pain
Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium. By doing so, vitamin D helps maintain bone health, and when you do not get enough of it, you experience bone and lower back pain.
Studies have even shown there is a relationship between chronic lower back pain and vitamin D deficiency.
When you ignore the initial symptoms of deficiency, you risk bone loss, not just bone pain. As we grow older, our body needs more vitamins and minerals.
Older women usually think they need more calcium to keep their bones healthy. The reality is they need more vitamin D.
Similar as fatigue, muscle pain is a common symptom of many conditions. That is why it is hard to pinpoint the causes of muscle pain. But one option is vitamin D deficiency.
Studies show that people with chronic muscle pain have low vitamin D levels. The reason is vitamin D acts as a receptor in nerve cells that sense pain.
People attribute hair loss to stress, or to iron deficiency. Both are valid causes. However, there is one more you need to consider, especially if your hair loss problem is a severe one.
Women with low Vitamin D have been linked to hair loss, but there is little research done on the matter.
Benefits of vitamin D
Basically, getting enough vitamin D prevents all of the signs and symptoms we talked before. You have stronger bones, you heal better, and much more.
But here are some other quick benefits of getting enough vitamin D
- Reduced risk of flu and the common cold
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Prevention of cancer
- Healthy and easier to cope pregnancy
- Healthy infants
- Improved muscle function
- Improved cardiovascular function for a healthy heart and circulation
- Brain development and improved brain function
- Improved respiratory system and healthy lungs
Difference between D3 and D2
People think that there is no difference between vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. In fact, there is a huge difference. Let’s explain it.
According to many studies, D3 is the best form of vitamin D for the body. Vitamin D3 is called cholecalciferol, and it is the naturally occurring form of D vitamin.
Our body produces the vitamin when our skin comes in contact with direct sunlight. Vitamin D2, on the other hand, is a derivative of ergosterol. This is the form found in most vegan and vegetarian vitamin D supplements.
Simply put, vitamin D3 is far superior. Studies have shown the superiority of D3, and the inadequacy of D2.
Can vitamin D reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Professor Kefah Mokbel is a famous breast cancer surgeon. He is one of the leading cancer researchers and scientists in the area of breast cancer.
He believes that women should take vitamin D supplements on a daily basis. According to his research, doing that can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
In his estimates, taking daily supplements would save about 1,000 lives per year. And he goes a step further. Professor Mokbel recommends women above 20 should be given free vitamin D supplements as a form of prevention.
Breast cancer is not the only type of cancer vitamin D can prevent. According to different studies, the vitamin has protective qualities against other forms and types of cancer. This includes pancreatic, skin, ovarian, lung, and prostate cancer.
What is the optimal vitamin D level?
Maintaining an optimal level of vitamin D is crucial for your overall health.
We mentioned how many conditions and diseases are linked to vitamin D deficiency. But the question is, what is the optimal value?
According to many studies, the minimum is 40ng/ml. However, if you want to be sure, the ideal is between 60 and 80ng/ml.
How can you check? There are two vitamin D tests. If you have never tested your vitamin D levels, it might be a good time to do it now.
The two tests are 1.25(OH)D and the 25(OH)D tests. According to many, the 25(OH)D is the better marker for the overall status of vitamin D in your system. This is the marker associated with overall health, making it better for testing.
A simple lifestyle change, which will increase your vitamin D from 40 to 60ng/ml will prevent more than 50,000 new cases of colorectal cancer, and more than 60,000 new cases of breast cancer.
A healthy dose of vitamin D is what can reduce the case-fatality rates of people with cancer. So, test your levels, and if they are below the minimum, do something.
How to source vitamin D?
The best natural way to source vitamin D is to get it directly from the sun. Exposure to sunlight promotes vitamin D synthesis from cholesterol in the skin.
However, it is worth mentioning that you need to be careful with sun exposure. Too much of it and you risk skin infections and skin cancer.
The trick is to go out on the sun in the times when the weather is not too hot. During peak sun intensity hours, when the UV light is strongest, you are better off away from the sun.
The peak sun intensity hours are between 10am and 3pm. However, usually, the peak is at 1pm. Plan your outdoor activities for early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
If you do need to get out during peak hours, stay in shades, or protect yourself with clothes and sunscreen.
That being said, what are some vitamin D rich foods you can use to source the sunshine vitamin?
Cod liver oil
Technically, cod liver oil is a dietary supplement. Derived from liver of cod fish, it contains 100% of the daily value of vitamin D in just one teaspoon.
Same as with other fish oils, cod liver oil also delivers a ton of omega-3 fatty acids.
Being that fish oil is the best source of vitamin D, it is natural to find some fishes on the list.
The best among fishes are sardines, which deliver 41% of your daily value in just 3 ounces of serving. Sardines are also good for omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to providing protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other minerals, salmon also helps you get 100% of your daily value of vitamin D.
There is a reason why salmon is considered the best fish for a healthy diet. Almost every healthy diet has salmon in it.
Another fish that is easy to find in the grocery store. Canned tuna contains 57% of your vitamin D daily value.
Do not worry about canned foods, since the FDA recommends that two canned tuna meals per week is a safe threshold.
The last on our list of fish sources of vitamin D is mackerel. One serving of this fish delivers 100% of your daily value of vitamin D.
Important note, the FDA recommends that children and pregnant women should avoid mackerel because of the amount of mercury found in the fish.
One large egg delivers 10% of your daily value of vitamin D. And no, that does not mean you need to consume 10 eggs per day.
That would be too much, especially since most of the vitamin D is in the egg yolk. But two eggs per day is safe threshold.
You can find a lot of fortified milk products in the grocery store. But even raw milk contains a healthy dose of vitamin D.
One cup delivers 24% of the daily value of vitamin D. Good enough, right?
Mushrooms are one of the food sources that vegans can consume for vitamin D. The problem is one cup of mushrooms delivers just 1% of the daily value of vitamin D.
How to consume vitamin D supplements?
In addition to getting vitamin D supplements, you must follow some other guidelines. For starters, you also need to get proper sun exposure to boost the levels of the sunshine vitamin.
And when you consume vitamin D supplements, source vitamin K from your diet, as it bonds great with the sunshine vitamin.