Sometimes our lives get so busy that we forget to appreciate the wonders of the body and everything it allows us to do. But the truth is that you are alive because of brilliant biochemistry, and as you go about living your life, 60,000 miles of blood vessels run through you, and your body is producing 25 million new cells each second.
What's even more amazing is that the trillions of diverse cells in your body were formed from the same carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen in stars that shined brightly billions of years ago. In other words: You are literally made of stardust. And while these trillions of cells all have their own unique purpose, they also have one thing in common: They need vitamin D to thrive.
Allow me to introduce you to the sunshine vitamin.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because we cannot get ample amounts of it from food. Instead, our awesome bodies make it from the biggest star in the sky—the sun. Your body absorbs sunlight using cholesterol, which helps convert sunlight into a form of vitamin D that your body can use. Vitamin D is fat-soluble and is actually more like a hormone than a vitamin, regulating hundreds of different pathways in your body. Your vitamin D (along with your thyroid hormones) are the only two hormones every cell needs, making them the king and queen of all hormones.
Want to know exactly how important the sunshine vitamin is? Here is your definitive guide to all things vitamin D.
One of the reasons for the "winter blues" is decreasing amounts of sunshine during the colder months. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to a 14 percent increase in depression and a 50 percent increase in suicide rates! Now you can start to see just how important vitamin D is.
2. Asthma reducer
Studies show that higher vitamin D intake by pregnant moms reduces their baby's risk of asthma by 40 percent. And other research suggests that vitamin D has a protective effect against upper-respiratory infections.
3. Autoimmune balancer
Vitamin D is an integral part of balancing your immune system. It's no surprise then that low levels of vitamin D are associated with autoimmune conditions such as MS, Parkinson's, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, and autoimmune thyroid problems (like Hashimoto's disease and rheumatoid arthritis). Conversely, optimal levels are linked with improved symptoms.
4. Bone strengthener
Most people know this already, but it's still worth mentioning. Vitamin D prevents the breakdown of bones and increases the strength of your skeletal system.
5. Brain booster
6. Cancer fighter
People who have optimal vitamin D levels have lower levels of breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer. This vitamin also seems to be able to kill and prevent growth of cancer cells by up to 50 percent!
7. Fertility booster
8. Heart protector
9. Inflammation calmer
Inflammation is the common link between most chronic health problems, and vitamin D has the unique capability to squelch the inflammatory storm in myriad ways.
10. Metabolism energizer
11. Physical performance enhancerSupplementing this important vitamin has been shown to boost muscle strength and physical performance. Vitamin D has also been shown to increase balance—decreasing falls by 20 percent in some studies.
12. Sleep improver
Sleep is so important for feeling and looking your best. Healthy levels of D are associated with increased sleep quality.
OK, vitamin D is super important; so what can I do about it?
Here's your new vitamin D-boosting lifestyle plan:
1. Test your vitamin D levels.
In functional medicine we want to shoot for optimally healthy levels (not just within the lab's reference range). Optimal vitamin D levels are somewhere between 60 and 80, depending on the person.
2. Get some sunlight!
Spending some time out in the sun, about 20 to 60 minutes (depending on where you live in the world and your skin tone) is a great way to boost your D levels.
3. Optimize your vitamin D from food.
- Cod liver oil: 1 teaspoon: 440 IU (over 100 percent Daily Value)
- Sardines: 3 ounces: 164 IU (41 percent Daily Value)
- Salmon: 3 ounces: 400 IU (100 percent Daily Value)
- Mackerel: 3 ounces: 400 IU (100 percent Daily Value)
- Tuna: 3 ounces: 228 IU (57 percent Daily Value)
- Raw grass-fed milk: 1 cup: 98 IU (24 percent Daily Value)
- Caviar: 1 ounce: 33 IU (8 percent Daily Value)
- Organic eggs: 1 large: 41 IU (10 percent Daily Value)
- Mushrooms: 1 cup: 2 IU (1 percent Daily Value)
4. Supplement accordingly.
Since it's difficult to get vitamin D exclusively through food—and most of us don't spend enough time outside—supplementation is sometimes necessary. Based on where your starting level is I typically suggest supplementing with anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 IU each day of vitamin D. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, I prefer the drops and capsules that include mct or coconut oil. And always make sure there are no added fillers or colors.
Always retest every two or three months to ensure your levels don't go too high, which isn't good either. As with everything in the body, vitamin D follows the Goldilocks Principle: not too high or too low but just right.
5. Take advantage of vitamin synergy.
When getting your vitamin D levels up to where they should be, it's best to include the other fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, and K2. These vitamins are uber important in their own right and help balance out the vitamin D, making it more bioavailable and preventing levels from getting too high. You can supplement with these, but I also suggest focusing on food jam-packed with these fat-soluble vitamins. Check out my article on the subject to learn more.