74% Of People Are Deficient In Vitamin D — Here's How To Supplement

Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller By Mark Hyman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.
Woman Enjoying The Sun

Image by Lyuba Burakova / Stocksy

What deficiency affects over half the population and rarely goes diagnosed? If you answered vitamin D, you're correct! Vitamin D is a hormone produced from a photolytic reaction with ultraviolet (UV) light—which can be hard to come for those of us who spend a lot of time indoors. Here's why low vitamin D levels are so common and why I recommend using supplements to get enough of the sunshine hormone.

Why it's so hard for most people to get enough vitamin D.

Many of us live in more northern latitudes (pretty much anywhere north of Florida), where ample sunlight is not available year-round. Even for those who do have access to lots of sun, many folks spend the majority of time indoors or slather on UV-blocking sunscreen when they do go out. As you get older, your body also slows down its production of natural vitamin D. The average 70-year-old creates significantly less vitamin D than a younger person. Skin color makes a difference, too, as people with dark skin produce less vitamin D. All things considered, you probably need to look beyond the sun to get enough vitamin D, especially if you're older.

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While there are some vitamin-D-rich foods, including fungi-yeast, molds, mushrooms, and liver (especially from cod, herring, and sardines), most don't have high enough levels of the hormone. Unless you're eating 30 ounces of wild salmon a day or downing 10 tablespoons of cod liver oil with breakfast, you might need to start taking a supplement to make sure you're getting optimal levels. I put nearly every one of my patients on vitamin D supplements, which are inexpensive and easy to take via soft gels or liquid drops.

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What's the right amount of vitamin D?

The NIH recommends 200 to 600 IUs of vitamin D a day. That's the amount to prevent rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. But the real question is: How much vitamin D do you need for optimal health? Probably more than you think—but at the same time, very high levels of vitamin D can become toxic.

Here are five ways to optimize your levels to get all of the benefits from this workhorse hormone*:

1. Get tested.

Before starting to supplement with vitamin D, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy test. This will give you and your doctor an idea of how much you may need to supplement.

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2. Take the right form.

Use D3, not D2. Vitamin D3 is derived from lanolin, so strict vegans should find a lichen-derived D3. To improve absorption, take vitamin D with food that contains some fat since it is a fat-soluble nutrient.

3. Take the right amount.

If you have a deficiency, correct it with 5,000 to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D3 a day for three months—but only under a doctor's supervision. (Higher doses should ideally be combined with vitamin K.) For maintenance, lower doses are needed, up to 4,000 IUs a day of vitamin D3. Some people may need higher doses, but please discuss this with your doctor.

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4. Get rechecked every three months.

Since vitamin D is a hormone, it fluctuates for everyone differently, and obviously seasonal changes affect it too.

There are different "optimal ranges." Experts and organizations have different ranges. You want levels over 30ng/mL and not more than 80ng/mL.

5. Be patient.

It could take six to 10 months to "fill up the tank" for vitamin D if you're deficient.* Once this occurs, you can lower the dose to a maintenance dose.

As I mentioned earlier, please talk to your doctor about making any changes to your normal health routine, as every body has different needs.

Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker,...
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Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally...
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