What vitamin deficiency affects over half the population, rarely goes diagnosed, and has been linked to many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain, bone loss, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis?
If you answered vitamin D, you’re correct.
Vitamin D: It's the sunshine hormone.
Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin or nutrient; it is a hormone produced from a photolytic reaction with ultraviolet (UV) light.
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 it, many folks spend the majority of time indoors or slather on sunscreen when they do go out. That means you probably need to get vitamin D from your diet.
As a medical doctor, I prefer patients get nutrition from food whenever possible, but vitamin D presents some obstacles. Food sources are minimal, which is why dairy and other food products are fortified with vitamin D. Some plants contain small amounts of the non-biologically active form of vitamin D, such as fungi-yeast, molds, and mushrooms. The best animal sources are liver, especially from cod, herring, and sardines. Still, unless you’re eating 30 ounces of wild salmon a day or downing 10 tablespoons of cod liver oil a day (which you're probably not!), I recommend patients supplement with vitamin D to get optimal amounts.
Even if you get enough vitamin D, you may not be absorbing it.
Among the obstacles for your body to make sufficient vitamin D include age. The average 70-year-old creates significantly less vitamin D than a younger person.
Skin color makes a difference, too. People with dark skin produce less vitamin D, and I’ve seen very severe deficiencies in Orthodox Jews and Muslims who keep themselves covered all the time.
The government 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, not just deficiencies?
How much vitamin D is the right amount?
Much more than you think. When my patients reach optimal levels, they frequently tell me how much better they feel. I see major improvements in their health. That’s why I put nearly every patient on vitamin D supplements, which are inexpensive and easy to take via softgels or liquid drops.
At the same time, more vitamin D is not always better, and very high levels 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.
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. You can find plenty of healthy fat recipes and ideas in my book Eat Fat, Get Thin.
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, and many better supplements combine these two vitamins.) For maintenance, take 2,000 to 4,000 IUs a day of vitamin D3. Some people may need higher doses, but please discuss this with your doctor.
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 ten months to "fill up the tank" for vitamin D if you’re deficient. Once this occurs, you can lower the dose to the maintenance dose of 2,000 to 4,000 IUs a day.
As I mentioned earlier, please talk to your doctor about making any changes to your normal health routine, as every body has different needs.