There’s been lots of buzz about vitamin D in the last decade and is regarded by some as a “Super Nutrient” with a multitude of broad benefits. Is this all just media hype? In my opinion, vitamin D is the real deal and its prime importance in health is supported by loads of literature & the evidence continues to grow. This article will shed some light on the importance of optimizing your vitamin D level, how to most effectively do this, which form of vitamin D is best, how to get your vitamin D level checked & much more.
Are you Vitamin D Deficient?
According to recent studies, over 75% of the population has inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood & this percentage has continued to rise significantly over the last two decades. Furthermore, over 40% are classified as dangerously deficient with levels under 20 ng/mL. This sort of deficiency is especially common in Black & Hispanic populations, with 82.1% and 69.2% being deficient, respectively. With statistics like these, it’s safe to assume that adding some additional vitamin D into your life is a good idea!
Why is Vitamin D so Important?
Did you know that vitamin D is actually a potent hormone that regulates the expression of hundreds of genes that are essential to your physiological & psychological well-being? Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
A recent meta-analysis of 50 randomized controlled trials has confirmed that supplemental vitamin D3 significantly reduces all cause mortality. Modern medicine has always recognized vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption and is finally even coming around to its benefits on immune health & cancer protection. But now, we are finding that vitamin D can help with heart failure, protect against heart attacks & reduce the risk of death from both cardiovascular & overall causes!
Conditions that are Associated with Low Vitamin D levels:
Boosting Immunity & Cold Prevention
Numerous studies show an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and vitamin D levels. That is, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections.
Vitamin D not only boosts immunity but also indirectly induces the synthesis of over 200 antimicrobial peptides, the most important of which is called Cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic. This is one reason why it can be so effective against colds & influenza. Who needs a synthetic antibiotic when you can simply stimulate your body’s production of its own!
Ways to Increase Vitamin D Levels
Exposure to UV Light:
This is the ideal way to stimulate adequate vitamin D production. *All you need is 10 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily depending on where you live, time of day, season and how dark your skin is. The darker your skin is, the more time in the sun is needed for adequate production. Remember, vitamin D is synthesized in the oil of your skin and has to be absorbed first to be converted to its active form & utilized. So don’t wash off all the oils of your skin after sunbathing!
*Click to Calculate the Amount of Sunlight You Need Daily
Eat vitamin D-rich foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork. Most milk is NOT a good source of vitamin D, however, because it contains the wrong form (see below for more info).
Most people do not eat enough vitamin D-rich foods and don’t get enough daily sunlight either because of where they live or the modern indoor lifestyle. And often, even those that do have the healthy latter habits, are still deficient. This is why supplementation, especially in Fall & Winter months is so important. Just make sure to always take your vitamin D supplement with food that has some fat contents. This way, you will maximize absorption of the vitamin D since it is fat-soluble.
All Vitamin D Isn't Equivalent...Be Sure To Choose the Right One!
There are two main forms of this vitamin – D2 & D3. D2 is a fungus/yeast-derived product & D3 is synthesized from the lanolin in sheep’s wool. Vitamin D3 is a more active form that has greater efficacy in raising & maintaining proper levels. Furthermore, a meta-analysis performed in 2011 showed that while supplementation with vitamin D3 was associated with a 6% relative risk reduction in mortality, supplementing with vitamin D2 showed a 2% relative risk INCREASE in mortality. So not only is D2 not as effective…it may also be bad for you!
Unfortunately, most milk is fortified with D2 & the high-dose prescription that your doctor will likely prescribe you is the wrong form as well!
Dosage & Product Recommendation:
Traditionally, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is a measly 400 IUs. This is certainly enough to ward off a serious condition like Rickets, but is it enough for optimal functioning & well-being? Definitely not.
Experts recommend anything from 2 - 5,000 IUs per day for adults & children over 10. But this is typically a maintenance dose & especially if you are deficient, a much higher dose could be recommended. The best way to individualize the dosage that your body needs particularly is through vitamin D level testing.
Typically, you want to start supplementing with vitamin D at least 1-2 months before Winter starts to increase your level to the optimal range before the incidence of colds & flus start to increase.
To elevate levels faster, patients often are prescribed a high-potency, once-weekly dose of 50,000 IUs. But again, what you get from the pharmacy is the inferior D2 form. Fortunately, I found a company who makes an equally potent product of the D3 form that is also much cheaper!
Get your Vitamin D Level Checked
Since a vast majority of the population is highly deficient & the risk for toxicity with practical dosing is relatively low, you can safely start supplementing to raise your level without testing. However, testing for your actual vitamin D level can inform you if you are dangerously deficient so you can be more aggressive with your dosing to increase levels faster. In addition, testing allows you to individualize & ascertain what dose of vitamin D your body specifically needs to be in optimal range. Note, there are different types of vitamin d level testing, so make sure you seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional that will order the right one.
With the myriad of benefits & the great ease of increasing levels, there is no reason not to start optimizing your Vitamin D level today!
Adrian F Gombart. “The vitamin D–antimicrobial peptide pathway and its role in protection against infection” Future Microbiol. Nov 2009; 4: 1151.
Bjelakovic G, Gluud LL, Nikolova D, Whitfield K, Wetterslev J, Simonetti RG, Bjelakovic M, Gluud C. “Vitamin D supplementation for prevention of mortality in adults” 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD007470.
Forrest KY1, Stuhldreher WL. “Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.” Nutr Res. 2011 Jan;31(1):48-54.
Michos, E. Blumenthal, R. “Vitamin D Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.” Circulation.2007; 115: 827-828.