The cause of many health problems, including mood swings and lack of energy, may be only skin deep.
That’s what I learned a little over four years ago, when I immersed myself in researching vitamin D. Though I initially wanted to learn about its relationship to chronic skin conditions such as rosacea, hyper-pigmentation, psoriasis and heavy wrinkling, my interest in vitamin D has now gone far beyond cosmetic.
As I spoke with research and medical specialists, I grew to appreciate the critical importance of D levels to both beauty and overall health.
After all, vitamin D is being investigated for its possible role in a wide range of body functions and in the prevention of diseases including cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and depression. And vitamin D directly or indirectly controls hundreds of genetic expressions in the body.
There's been a lot of buzz around D lately, but there are still a lot of misconceptions. As a skin coach, mom, and woman who herself used to be deficient in D, I'm clearing up some of those myths and sharing the vital facts about vitamin D:
1. D is the only 'vitamin' made in the body.
Specifically, it’s made in the skin. But as we age, our skin loses its ability to produce sufficient levels of vitamin D.
And even if you’re taking supplements, it’s challenging to keep the skin primed with D. My friend Jim Nicolai, M.D. adds, “To get enough D in your system, there’s only so much supplementation you can take. People forget to take their supplement or they can’t tolerate it. Having a topical delivery system for D is the right way to do it.”
There is promising new research suggesting that natural forms of D (vitamin D3, in particular) can safely be delivered through topical application of skin creams. This encouraged me to be part of the solution by developing a topical D solution and initiating ongoing studies for longer term solutions.
My Daily D Defense: Apply a topical D lotion once a day.
2. D isn't actually a vitamin — it's a hormone.
It’s no wonder that we can feel a little sad when the weather is cloudy or we can’t get outside often. When levels of vitamin D are not in balance, depression and anxiety may be heightened. D deficiency has also been linked to seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual syndrome and sleeping disorders.
My Daily D Defense: Add more D into your diet. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are among the best sources of vitamin D. Egg yolks are a great source, too.
The USDA daily requirement is 600 IU per day, but many physicians recommend a higher level of about 1,800 IU per day. Personally, I consume 3000 IU per day, as I need more replenishment to maintain my active lifestyle.
3. You can — and should — wear sunscreen and still get D.
The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to UVB rays of the sun. So many researchers initially believed that sunscreen was responsible for higher rates of D deficiency.
However, only one in five people wear sunscreen on a daily basis and a majority of those only wear sunscreen on their face. Therefore, the stats didn't add up — it can’t only be sunscreen use that led to the epidemic of D deficiency.
With the highest deficiencies occurring in those with darker skin, researchers began to realize that heavier pigment in skin acted as a natural sunscreen blocking out UVB. People with darker skin require much longer sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D.
My Daily D Defense: Walking in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes with arms and legs unprotected between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will produce the most D. However, it is prudent to limit exposure of skin to sunlight to no longer than 15 minutes in order to lower your risk for skin cancer. Always wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
4. D is about much more than creating strong bones.
D needs to be present for calcium to absorb, which is why milk and cheese are vitamin-D enriched. However, D does much more than strengthen bones. Vitamin D receptors help manage cell proliferation and differentiation, immune defense, and insulin regulation/secretion.
In The Vitamin D Solution, author Michael F. Holick, M.D. writes, “If I had to give you a single secret ingredient that could apply to the prevention — and treatment, in many cases — of heart disease, common cancers, stroke, infectious diseases from influenza to tuberculosis, dementia, depression, insomnia, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, psoriasis, and hypertension, it would be this: Vitamin D.”
Are You Vitamin D Deficient? How To Get Tested
I urge everyone to have their D levels tested. It’s simple: just ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, also called a 25(OH) D test. Or you can order a home test online.
“Because of its relationship to so many health conditions and disease processes, when D is low it’s a very good indicator of overall health,” says Dr. Nicolai. “Get your D levels tested, and then create actionable steps if the level is not where you want it to be.”