Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D deficiency is pretty common in North America, but many of us are not aware that we may be lacking this important nutrient. The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in adults include:

  • general tiredness, aches and pains, and a general sense of not feeling well
  • severe bone or muscle pain or weakness that may cause difficulty climbing stairs or getting up from the floor or a low chair, or cause the person to walk with a waddling gait
  • stress fractures, especially in the legs, pelvis, and hips

Doctors can diagnose a vitamin D deficiency by performing a simple blood test. If you do have a deficiency, your doctor may order X-rays to check the strength of your bones.

Despite its name, vitamin D is not a regular vitamin. It’s actually a steroid hormone that you get primarily from sun exposure that influences genetic expression that produces many of its wide-ranging health benefits. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it is directly exposed to sunlight. A little can go a long way. All you need is 10 minutes a day of midday, pre-sunscreen sun exposure, especially if you have fair skin.

Beware that you CANNOT make any vitamin D when you’re exposed to sunlight through glass since glass filters out most of the UVB that stimulates vitamin D production. You’re mostly getting are UVA rays, which penetrate deeply into your skin, causing wrinkling, and increasing your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Also beware that UVA radiation is harsher in the morning, and late afternoon. So, contrary to popular advice (which was tailored around tanning vs optimizing vitamin D production), you’ll want to avoid early morning and afternoon sun.

Besides getting vitamin D through sunlight, you can also get it through certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood. It’s important to remember that if you’re taking a high dose vitamin D supplements, you also need to take vitamin K2.

The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn’t be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.

Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries. The reason for this is because when you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that move calcium around in your body. Without vitamin K2, those proteins remain inactivated, so the benefits of those proteins remain unrealized. So remember, if you take supplemental vitamin D, you’re creating an increased demand for K2. Together, these two nutrients help strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.

Many lifestyle and environmental factors can affect your ability to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through the sun alone. These factors include:

  • pollution
  • use of sunscreen
  • spending more time indoors
  • living in big cities where buildings block sunlight
  • having darker skin

These factors contribute to vitamin D deficiency in an increasing number of people. That’s why it’s important to get some of your vitamin D from sources besides sunlight.

Food Sources:

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Because of this, some foods are fortified. This means that vitamin D has been added. Foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • salmon
  • sardines
  • egg yolk
  • mushrooms
  • shrimp
  • milk (fortified)
  • cereal (fortified)
  • yogurt (fortified)
  • orange juice (fortified)

It can be hard to get enough vitamin D each day through sun exposure and food alone, so taking vitamin D supplements can help.

Keep in mind, the skin is very thin on our face is highly sensitive to the photoaging effects of UVA, so it’s a good idea to expose arms, legs etc. whenever you can, and take care to protect your face.

If you put a sunscreen on with a sun protection factor of 30, it reduces your ability to make vitamin D in your skin by about 95 to 98 percent, not to mention all the chemicals. I find moderation is a way better option than using sunscreen, but sometimes it may be necessary. I personally never use it unless I’m travelling in countries where the sun is stronger an shade is not always an option.

Although we’re still in the thick of winter, February is so, so sunny. Get out there and enjoy 10-20 minutes in the sun 🙂


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