Let’s talk about the big D that almost half of the world population is insufficient in – that’s right, Vitamin D.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body in response to sunlight exposure. This process is incredibly important in several bodily functions including the development/maintenance of strong bones and teeth, maintaining a strong immune system, and overall cell growth. Let’s take a closer look at some of its benefits…
Vitamin D stimulates intestinal calcium absorption, which is a fancy way of saying it helps your body retain more calcium than it would without the presence of Vitamin D. Without Vitamin D, only 10-15% of calcium, and 60% of phosphorus are absorbed by the body. When Vitamin D is added, absorption jumps to 30-40% and 80%, respectively.
“So what if my body absorbs calcium better?” is probably what you’re wondering right now. It breaks down to this – better calcium absorption means stronger bones. Vitamin D is therefore necessary for proper bone development. Maintaining proper levels of Vitamin D can prevent rickets (weakened bones caused by vitamin D deficiency) in kids, osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults, and in combination with Vitamin C, osteoporosis in the elderly.
Studies have shown that Vitamin D has the potential to help reduce cancer cell growth, infections, and fight disease.
Vitamin D can trigger the body’s immune response by activating its white blood cells, which are primarily responsible for fighting off infection. In comparison with people suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, people with healthy levels of Vitamin D are in a better position to fight off and even prevent respiratory illnesses (such as COVID-19… just saying…). Furthermore, when it comes to existing autoimmune conditions, lower Vitamin D levels have been shown to have negative impacts and can aggravate existing symptoms.
All of this is great, but what happens if you are not getting enough Vitamin D? Here’s the thing – most of us aren’t. Almost 1 billion people worldwide and 57% of North Americans are not getting enough Vitamin D.
Let me start off by saying that I have been lying to you. As it is produced naturally in the body, despite its name, Vitamin D is not technically a vitamin, but rather a fat-soluble prohormone. This means that theoretically we should be producing enough to sustain ourselves, and based on the numbers you just read, we are clearly not. As mentioned previously, Vitamin D is produced when the sun, specifically the sun’s UV rays, strikes the skin, triggering Vitamin D production. The problem is because of our current lifestyles, the opportunity to absorb natural sunlight is limited. Seasonal changes (I’m looking at you Canada!), and working inside during peak sunlight hours limits our exposure time. And don’t think you’re getting sufficient amounts if you’re lucky enough to have an office with a window – the glass used in windows is designed to filter out UV rays.
It is even more difficult to reach proper levels naturally for those with darker skin; as higher levels of melanin (skin pigmentation) act as a barrier reducing Vitamin D production. Those with darker skin require 3-5 times longer exposure than those with lighter skin shades to reach the same levels. The elderly also produce much less Vitamin D than the average young person. Those who are lactose-free, vegan, obese, suffer from IBS, and/or have had gastric bypass surgery are also at a greater risk for deficiency. And even if you do find the time to sit in the sun, if you’re wearing sunscreen (which you should be), absorption levels are reduced even further.
Insufficient Vitamin D levels can result in regular illness, fatigue, bone/back pain, a decrease in mood and hair loss. Long term deficiency can result in heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, immune system disorders, certain cancers, problems during pregnancy, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The best source of Vitamin D is undoubtedly the sun. But please do not go sit out in the sun without sunscreen because that can cause a whole other set of problems. Therefore, the second best, and most recommended source is taking a Vitamin D supplement. In order to maintain healthy bodily functions, the average recommended daily intake for adults is 1,500 to 2,000 IUs up to a maximum of 4,000 IUs.
Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, and is usually added to others as enrichments. If you’re looking to add more Vitamin D to your diet, the following foods provide decent sources, but should be supplemented as they do not provide enough Vitamin D on their own:
Wondering if you’re incorporating enough Vitamin D in your diet? Truth is, it’s not just external factors at play here. Studies by researchers of the SUNLIGHT Consortium (Study of Underlying Genetic Determinants of Vitamin D and Highly Related Traits) have discovered several common gene variants that are associated with a genetic predisposition to having lower Vitamin D levels. So basically, you could be doing everything right; getting sun, taking supplements, and eating well, and yet your very own DNA could be making it hard to hit healthy levels. But don’t worry, that’s where we come in – using our PNK Wellness kit, we can identify if you have a higher need for Vitamin D, and provide you with a better understanding of what your body really needs to reach an adequate Vitamin D level.
I’m not going to be like that one guy on my work Zoom call and try to convince you that if you take Vitamin D regularly you’ll never get sick again in your life (ok André, thanks). But the research does show that Vitamin D does have positive overall effects on your skeletal and immune health. As more research is being done, the benefits are becoming even more clear and everyone should try and add a little more Vitamin D to their life.