We've all heard about the sunshine vitamin, but do you know the ins and outs of what it is and what role it plays in your body? Vitamin D has a number of extremely beneficial effects on the human body. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, but it's also considered a pro-hormone, since the body can produce it with sunlight and doesn’t have to obtain it from food. Vitamin D is essential for supporting heart health, cancer prevention, blood pressure, a strong immune system, balanced insulin levels, healthy skin, and strong bones and teeth by promoting the absorption of calcium. It’s also a helpful nutrient when dealing with symptoms of COPD, PMS, anxiety, and depression.
All that said, it can be hard to know when we need extra vitamin D and when we don’t. With changing seasons when do we need to add extra vitamin D into our routine and what amount is healthy in the winter and summer?
The dos and don'ts of supplementing with vitamin D.
First, there are two forms of vitamin D supplementation: D2 (ergocalciferol, which is plant-based) and D3 (cholecalciferol, which is animal-based). Looking at a study conducted by the American Society for Nutrition, the D3 form of vitamin D is more effective at raising your levels of vitamin D efficiently. So when looking for a supplement make sure it is properly sourced, and if you are not vegetarian or vegan the D3 version is the best choice for upping your levels, if needed. Oftentimes, fortified foods use vitamin D2, which is still a viable option—it just hasn't been shown to work as quickly and efficiently as D3.
So, how do we know if we need it? There are more than 3 million cases of vitamin D deficiency a year in the United States. Some of the signs and symptoms are as follows:
- Getting sick more often
- Brittle bones that are easier to break
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Bone and muscle pains
- Depression and anxiety
- Difficulty healing
- Stomach issues like pain, bloating, and gas
- Hair loss
If you feel you have a deficiency or any of these symptoms, ask your doctor do a blood test to determine your current serum level. Ideally, your vitamin D levels should be over 36 ng/ml to be considered healthy.
Supplementing with vitamin D in the summer versus the winter.
Summer months are often the easiest when it comes to feeling good mentally and physically. We are more apt to get outside in the warmth and light and because of this, our bodies get more of the vitamin D we need from the sun. Typically, 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight two to three days a week is all you need for your body to make sufficient vitamin D. That being said, it has to be direct sunlight without sunscreen. You still want to use sunscreen if you plan on being in the sun any longer than that to protect your skin. If you were to supplement with Vitamin D in the summer, the max amount to supplement with if you do not have a known deficiency and are not being monitored by a physician is 600 IUs, as recommended by the National Institutes of Health.
Due to less sun exposure in the colder months, some may have a greater need to supplement with vitamin D in the winter, and then limit their supplementation in the summer. How do you know if you're in this group? Well, it all depends on where you're starting from, which is why it's a good idea to discuss your individual needs with your practitioner to assess how your environment and lifestyle factors could influence optimal levels of vitamin D. Because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be stored in the body and become toxic in excess, so if you’re taking any more than 2,000 IU’s per day you should be monitored by a physician. Overall, it's important to make sure your getting enough sunshine or supplementing with vitamin D to keep both your mind and body healthy all summer (and winter!) long.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.