There’s been a lot of discussion about vitamin D over the past several years. I used to follow the adage “if you lived below the Mason-Dixon line you were not likely to be vitamin D deficient.” Being that I have never lived north of Baton Rouge, LA I thought I was in the clear.
It was February and I was apathetic, unmotivated, and generally had the blah’s. For the first time in my life I understood what it felt like to be depressed. Being that I don’t like to be cold and our days are so short during the winter I’d spent much of the previous months inside, curled up on the couch by a fire. I woke up one day, looked in the mirror, and didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. The person I know has more energy, spunk, and love for life than that girl looking back at me. So I pulled out my spy glass and started investigating. It turns out I my vitamin D was low, 26ng/mL to be exact. This was far below the optimal range of 50-80ng/mL where I now know I feel alive.
Aside from building bones, why do we need vitamin D?
While we know vitamin D is needed for building bones and teeth it is crucial for many other functions in the body. According to the Vitamin D Council there is research suggesting vitamin D plays a role in numerous conditions and diseases. Some of these include:
- Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment
- cancers-breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, leukemia, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer
- type 2 diabetes
- respiratory infections
Three places we get vitamin D-sun, food, & supplements
The skin has the ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D in the form that is usable to the body systems. There isn’t an agreed upon amount of time that we should spend in the sun and it all depends on where you live and how strong the sun’s rays are, hence the adage about the Mason Dixon Line. The beauty of this is that the sun is free and readily available. The down side is that most of us don’t spend much time in the direct sunlight. And who can blame us in S. Louisiana. It’s as hot as the dickens for much of the year. We have a handful of days when we get excited to be outside and quite frankly those days are shorter, with less sunlight, and that doesn’t produce enough vitamin D to last the entire year.
Quite frankly there is not a great variety of foods that are high in vitamin D and the ones that do have natural vitamin D are not necessarily high in the vital nutrient.
- cod liver (I know it’s not really a food that we eat, but it is the natural food highest in vitamin D)
- egg yolks, specifically if the chickens are pastured and exposed to sunlight (go ahead and buy the ones from the farmer, it’s worth it)
Aside from this small list, there are more foods such as milk, orange juice, cereals that are fortified with vitamin D, however the quality and absorbability of the fortified foods is questionable.
So if you don’t spend much time outdoors, and you aren’t eating oily fish, mushrooms, pastured egg yolks regularly you may need to supplement with vitamin D. To know how much you need, it’s best to know where you are starting from. I’d first recommend getting a vitamin D test from your doctor to determine your starting point. This chart can help you determine how much you should supplement with based on your current blood status.
Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin it really should be taken with some kind of fat to ensure it’s absorption. It’s usually in a capsule with oil that helps the absorption. This is the one I’ve been using and have had great results repeatedly.
In my experience it doesn’t matter if you live above or below the Mason Dixon line, vitamin D deficiency is very common and can be a part of many health issues. While there are a few foods with vitamin D it’s most likely that supplementation is needed, especially during this time when the days are shorter and we tend to cover our skin because of the weather.
Last year I made sure to take responsibility to keep my vitamin D status in check, and I will do the same this year. Come January and February, I know I will be glad I did so.