Newflash: Getting "occasional" sunshine isn't cutting it.
You've probably heard a lot about vitamin D. It continues to show up in headlines and medical reports, even as recently as last year, when new recommendation amounts were suggested.
Most people understand that Vitamin D is important, but there are still a lot of myths and misunderstandings floating around about Vitamin D, the best sources of it, and why your body needs it.
Let's change that and look in-depth at Vitamin D. It may be one of the single most powerful nutrients you're not getting enough of.
Vitamin D was first studied when researchers began investigating the bone health of children and adults in the early 1910's. At that time, there were cases of Rickets, a painful condition where bones softened and weakened, leaving affected children with curved legs.
Some doctors discovered that Rickets could be treated and completely cured through exposure to sunlight or artificial UV light, giving teeth to the notion that there was a sun-derived vitamin connected to bone health.
Researchers knew something was responsible for the improved bone health of theses rickets patients, but it wasn't until years of additional study that vitamin D was even identified.
Fast forward to present day when we now know that vitamin D is important for much more than just our bones, but dozens of other parts of the body as well.
In the last decade, vitamin D has been an ongoing topic of interest for all who are health conscious. To understand all the newest information and apply the research to your own personal health, I've compiled a list of the top 10 things that every person should know about vitamin D:
1. 3 out of 4 people are vitamin D-deficient.
This harrowing statistic is one reason why vitamin D makes so many headlines. An estimated 75% of the public is putting their health at risk by not ensuring that their Vitamin D levels are up to par.
Very few nutrients are so commonly lacking in people's diets that it calls for a great deal of concern. Some even use the words "global epidemic."
The latest research from The clearly shows that only about 23% of people have adequate blood levels of vitamin D (based on U.S. research). Researchers also pointed out that deficiency is even more common among dark-skinned cultures like Latinos and African Americans.
QUICK TIP: Sunbathe PLUS supplement. Sunlight is the #1 source of vitamin D. Unfortunately, people who live north of 35 degree latitude lack direct enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D year round. So, if your home is north of, say, Phoenix, AZ, you'll probably need to rely on another source of vitamin D besides the sunshine.
2. Supplementing your largest meal of the day boosts effects of vitamin D.
If you're like me, you have a daily routine of combining your supplement with specific meals; ones with breakfast, mid-day ones, and maybe a few supplements before bed.
Most people like to get their supplements in with breakfast to prevent forgetting about them later on. With vitamin D, there's actually research that can help you optimize your daily dose.
A study looking at vitamin D deficient patients found that some people were resistant to getting in the normal ranges, even with heavy vitamin D doses. So, researchers tried to understand why these patients vitamin D levels remained unchanged.
They tried a small study looking at supplementing vitamin D with "the largest meal of the day" and found that this boosted absorption and helped normalize blood levels by about 50%.
Sometimes, even with a mega dose of vitamin D, your blood level may be stubborn, keeping you stuck with a deficiency. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it must bind to some form of fat in the intestine to be properly absorbed.
Water soluble vitamins just need some fluid to be absorbed and metabolized, but fat soluble ones require something more substantial. This can explain why combining vitamin D with the largest meal can prove beneficial.
QUICK TIP: Take your vitamin D with food. When you do supplement, make sure to include it whenever you have your biggest meal. This strategy will lead to the best outcome.
3. Vitamin D is NOT a vitamin; it's an anabolic hormone.
Are you shocked by this statement? Truthfully, we shouldn't even call vitamin D a vitamin because the title doesn't fit the nutrient. Unlike other vitamins or minerals, vitamin D is not widely present in foods and doesn't just fill a gap in our diets or is part of an enzyme. It does so much more than your typical vitamin or mineral.
Vitamin D actually causes a wide variety of effects all across the body, from promoting cell growth and division to turning genes on and off for instant actions. This type of activity has more similarity to the work done by other major hormones like insulin, testosterone or human growth hormone.
In fact, Vitamin D is so "unvitaminlike" that many experts are pushing for a rebranding of vitamin D to further reinforce how essential this nutrient is and truly reflect on its contribution to overall health.
4. Vitamin D affects over a dozen places in the body.
Parathyroid, bone, skin, kidney, colon, blood cells, Pituitary gland, ovaries ... I could list more organs and bodily functions that vitamin D is responsible for affecting, but the list would be so long. The research on vitamin D is still expanding, which means the list is ever-growing. We still don't have an exhaustive understanding of all Vitamin D does for a body.
Though Vitamin D has a massive and complex effect on the body, the reality is simple: if you want to reverse disease, improve your energy, fight the aging process, or just keep a healthy functioning body running well, then healthy levels of this "vitamin" are 100% essential.
5. Deficiency may mean a shorter life.
This area of vitamin D research is actually quite clear. There have been several massive studies which show low vitamin D levels are closely related to shortened longevity and one's likelihood of developing some of the most common diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
Studies so large, the findings arrived from reviewing the blood work of thousands of people across multiple cultures. These large-scale, population-wide studies allow scientists to see trends forming without needing to fully understand the in-depth physiological reason behind them.
The clear observation in recent studies is an obvious connection between adequate levels of vitamin D and living a long, robust life.
A common quote of Albert Einstein reads, "those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act." If you're interested in living a longer and fuller life, it's up to you to apply this information to your habits.
A simple lab test and even simpler supplement can help ensure that healthy future you're after. I recommend getting a full course of blood work done by a doctor or functional diagnostic nutrition expert. Or, you can order and online test and send it into a lab for results.
You can also purchase an at-home test from the vitamin D council, which needs a single finger prick to help you determine your Vitamin D levels.
Wondering what your levels should look like? Here's a quick-reference chart:
6. Vitamin D beats down cancer.
Cancer continues to be a global health risk, which we have no cure for. Researchers have known for a while that vitamin D, because of its variety of effects on our cells, can fight off the development of cancer before it grows.
Remember, vitamin D can actually switch off, and on certain genes cause cell growth in certain areas, and also work synergistically with other nutrients in the body. All of these are reasons why this nutrient is thought to be a potent cancer prevention tool.
One study found that people had a 17% reduced rate of cancer appearing in the first place from having adequate Vitamin D levels.
Also, for those who already developed cancer, higher vitamin D levels meant higher rates of survival. This was especially true for people with digestive cancers (stomach and colon cancer).
For every 25 nmol/L higher a person's blood level of vitamin D was, patients saw a 29% drop in total cancer death and a 45% drop in cancers of the bowels, meaning vitamin D is one of the most powerful protections we have against cancer development AND cancer survival.
7. If there's an upper limit, it's pretty high.
This fact about vitamin D requires a short story. Once, while attending a conference with other nutrition professionals, I listened to a physician representing the Vitamin D Council.
During this presentation he held a small white pill bottle of vitamin D pills in his hand as he explained the complexities of Vitamin D and its usefulness to the body. During every few minutes of his talk, he shot down a few doses from his pill bottle with some water. He'd announce that he just consumed 300% of the recommended amount of vitamin D. Then 500%. Then 1000%.
The speaking and pill-downing routine continued until the end of his 50-minute talk, which talked about the improbability of toxicity from vitamin D. By the end of the talk, this physician had consumed over 10,000 times the recommended daily dose of vitamin D (400 international units).
Now, this doctor was a little crazy and likely biased since he represented the "Vitamin D Council." Nevertheless, he reinforced a good point. Bare skin has the capacity to make 10,000-25,000 iu's (about 300 times the daily recommended intake) before skin even begins to burn. So, we've got a pretty high tolerance for this nutrient.
Many researchers and experts have been vocally arguing about the newly updated vitamin D recommendations, which suggest a measly 600 IU's per day. The truth is, this is simply not enough Vitamin D to maintain healthy levels.
Most nutritional and medical professionals wonder: if this nutrient is so important and the deficiency is so common, why would we not automatically recommend more? This is a question I too have pondered as I think about the often outdated and unhelpful national vitamin and mineral recommendations.
The basic answer behind the current low vitamin D recommendations is ultimately because everyone's case is different. Though most people across the board are deficient, how much vitamin D individuals get daily should be based off of individual blood levels, and not off of national recommendations.
Just one more reason to get your lab work done: to know how much Vitamin D you need, you must know your personal levels.
Though we can tolerate a HUGE amount of vitamin D, there are still dangers of getting too much. Some research have suggested upper limits for an adult's vitamin D intake are likely around 10,000 to 40,000 IU/day, or a blood level of 500–600 nmol/L. This means the doctor I mentioned before most likely was putting himself at risk according to the latest research.
QUICK TIP: Get your own levels checked to see exactly where you are and then decide your supplementation route from there.
8. Vitamin D is essential for athletic performance.
Quick! What do you know about the Mexico City Summer Olympics in 1968? Probably not a lot, but this particular Olympic year had an unusually high amount of world records broken.
What does that fact have to do with vitamin D? Altitude. Mexico City sits at a very high altitude (2300 meters above sea level). It's been theorized that some of the great athletic feats of 1968 weren't just made possible by air quality, but were also a result of higher Vitamin D levels in athletes who'd arrived early to train and acclimatize. Since they were living at higher altitudes, they were closer to the sun–the single purest source of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D binds to muscle cells, and some studies have also shown a small but distinct correlation between heightened athletic performance, including an increased ability to run, jump and build muscular power. Additional studies have also shown the reverse: that low Vitamin D levels can actually slow athletic ability.
Anyone with a vested interested in maintaining or increasing their muscle mass, should also know that vitamin D can play a large part in preventing the loss of muscle tissue.
9. Vitamin D is essential for the immune system.
Once researchers began discovering the importance of vitamin D to bone health, they quickly noticed a trend with enhanced immunity. Before antibiotics were developed, vitamin D was a go-to treatment to treat tuberculosis patients.
Along with muscle, bone and skin cells, vitamin D also binds with immune cells to boost defense against foreign substances in the body.
Those who are already vitamin D deficient can boost their ability to fight off colds and sicknesses by upping their levels. This immune protection is especially seen in cases of auto-immune disease like Multiple Sclerosis, where having high vitamin D levels and living in more sun exposed places is one of the top prevention strategies.
So, there are a couple of take-aways from this important information.
First, you'll want to maintain high vitamin D levels to ward off sicknesses and some auto-immune diseases.
Secondly, reach for some vitamin D next time you fall victim to a common cold or flu. In both minor and major disease, Vitamin D can play a huge role in preventing illness and supporting recovery.
10. You'll never get enough from food.
Some doctors and nutritionists will claim that common foods like milk and orange juice are supplemented with enough vitamin D to help prevent deficiency. Yet, deficiency is still the norm for most populations.
When you look at lists of what foods have vitamin D in them, the foods are pretty unusual and the amount they have is lacking comparatively:
Once you get your levels checked, keep in mind that daily sunshine, supplementation, and food sources are all important ways to maintain balanced Vitamin D levels. Re-test your levels after a month or so to see how your body is responding.
Mindful daily supplementation (and sun whenever possible) is going to be your best strategy to prevent deficiency and maintain adequate levels. This small, but extremely vital habit, is massively important for long-term health and wellbeing.
Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the NYTimes Best-selling book,"The All-Day Energy Diet." In his upcoming book, "The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet" (Rodale, 2015) he walks readers through a 5-day food cycling program guaranteed to double your weight loss. Look for it in bookstores December 2015.
This article was originally published at yurielkaim. Reprinted with permission from the author.