You’ve probably heard Vitamin D referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”. But what does that actually mean? And how does Vitamin D support a healthy body and mind? Today, we’re going to discuss all the basics about this essential nutrient, and share everything you need to know to get more Vitamin D into your life.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins. The other three fat-soluble vitamins are A, E and K. This means that Vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat stores and liver.
Vitamin D is different from all the other vitamins. That’s because the body actually produces most of this vitamin, instead of getting the majority of it from food sources.
How does the body make its own Vitamin D? This is where the “sunshine” comes in.
Every person has a substance called melanin in their bodies. In fact, it determines how dark or light your skin is. Individuals with darker skin have high amounts of melanin. Individuals with fair skin have less melanin.
The fairer the skin type, the easier it is for the body to produce Vitamin D. That’s because when the skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the skin can release more melanin since it doesn’t already have so much of it.
The more sunshine exposure you have, the more melanin gets released in the skin. Then, the cholesterol in the skin takes this newly released melanin and converts it into different chemicals.
But the skin doesn’t simply take sunshine and make Vitamin D with it. Instead, the cholesterol within the skin produces Vitamin D3, also known as provitamin D. With Vitamin D3 as the starting point, the body turns it into a substance it can use, called calcitriol.
Another special thing about Vitamin D is that it actually becomes a hormone, too. As you can see, Vitamin D is a bit more complex than other vitamins.
What’s the difference between Vitamin D, Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3?
It’s not unheard of for there to be different types of the same vitamin. Vitamin B, for example, has eight different types (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12). However, when it comes to Vitamin B, all of these vitamins are obtainable in dietary sources.
This isn’t the case for Vitamin D, however. As we now know, the body produces Vitamin D. And in the earliest stages of Vitamin D production, the body first makes the provitamin, Vitamin D3, before it can be utilized throughout the rest of the body.
But you probably see and hear about Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 supplements. What’s the deal with these two forms of Vitamin D?
Vitamin D2 is a man-made substance, made with irradiating yeast, as well as other molds. In short, Vitamin D2 is a vegetarian option. The body can utilize some of this vitamin, but it’s not the best option for human nutrition.
Vitamin D3 is also manmade, but this one is made from animal sources, including irradiating animal oils and cholesterol. The body prefers this type of Vitamin D. That’s because it’s closer to the type of Vitamin D which the body produces on its own.
What does Vitamin D do in the body?
Vitamin D plays many important roles in the body. Without Vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium. And as we all know, calcium is crucial for healthy bones.
But Vitamin D isn’t just a bone-friendly nutrient. It plays a role in preventing cancer, like breast, colon and prostate cancer. Mental health is also deeply affected by Vitamin D, and so are the cardiovascular, neuromuscular and immune systems.
As you’ll see below, without Vitamin D, the body is very vulnerable to many serious health conditions.
Signs of a Vitamin D deficiency
Dr. Josh Axe shares many of the health problems, which research links to a deficiency in this sunshine vitamin. Here they are:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chronic pain
- Depression, including seasonal depression
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Osteopenia (weak bones)
It’s clear that a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to some pretty serious health problems. So, it’s crucial to take steps to keep your Vitamin D levels high. And if you’re worried about having too much Vitamin D, you shouldn’t be.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), it’s estimated that a whopping 90 percent of American adults are Vitamin D deficient. Chances are, you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, too. And to be sure, it’s a good idea to have your primary care doctor run a test to determine your levels.
Who’s at risk for a Vitamin D deficiency?
Research shows that certain people are at greater risk for having a Vitamin D deficiency.
People of color, who have darker skin pigments, are most at risk. However, even white individuals suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency, too. This is especially if you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sun most of the year, or if you spend most of your time indoors.
If that sounds about right for you, there’s a very good chance that you don’t have enough of this crucial vitamin.
How much sunshine do you need to produce enough Vitamin D on your own?
Since our bodies need sunlight to produce Vitamin D, it’s important to know how much sunlight exposure you should have for optimal levels of this sunshine vitamin.
The amount of time you need depends on your skin type. For fair skin types to start producing Vitamin D, they need about 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. For darker skin types, this number increases, and they can spend up to an hour in the sun.
For these time periods, it’s best to go without sunscreen to ensure your skin can produce melanin, and therefore, Vitamin D.
It’s important to remember that not all sunlight exposure is the same. For example, the sunlight can be most harsh during midday, so it’s a good idea to avoid getting your Vitamin D fix at lunchtime
So, what’s the best time to expose your body to natural sunlight? When you go outside, take a look at your shadow. If it’s shorter than you, this is a great time to seek some sunshine.
Do sunscreens interfere with the body’s vitamin D production?
We are encouraged to wear sunscreen all year long – not just during the hot summer months. It’s even in makeup and skincare products. And even though we’re supposed to wear sunscreens to help prevent skin cancer, wearing them carries another health risk.
Sunscreens can actually cancel your body’s Vitamin D production.
There is research showing that a sunblock of just SPF 8 can lower the body’s Vitamin D production up to 90 percent. With SPF of 30 or more, the body’s Vitamin D production can be reduced to 99 percent.
In short, sunscreens can actually cancel your body’s Vitamin D production, and as we now know, that’s a serious problem. As you’ll remember, the list of Vitamin D-deficiency health problems is full of serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and depression.
It might be a good idea to make an effort to go sunscreen-free for a short time each day to ensure that your body can produce the Vitamin D it needs.
Best dietary sources of Vitamin D
In an ideal world, we’d all be able to spend adequate time outdoors to get all the sunshine our bodies need. But the truth is, that’s not always possible. Most of our activities take place indoors. What’s worse, if you live in areas that don’t see a lot of sun, you can spend months without getting enough Vitamin D.
To help boost your Vitamin D levels throughout the year, it can help to focus on Vitamin D-rich foods. During winter months, it’s especially important to put these foods on your plate.
- Cod liver oil
- Fatty fish, like sardines, salmon, and mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Raw milk
- Beef liver
Best Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D-rich foods are pretty easy to find and enjoy. But when it comes to finding a Vitamin D supplement, it gets a little more complicated. That’s because there are just so many options available.
If you would like to include a Vitamin D supplement into your daily diet, it can be confusing knowing where to start. To give you some ideas, here are three bestsellers that you can trust.
NatureWise Vitamin D3 5,000 IU
This 100% natural formula is made with non-GMO ingredients, cold-pressed organic olive oil, and is gluten-free. Plus, this is a form of Vitamin D (Vitamin D3) that your body prefers.
Garden of Life Vitamin D3 Vitamin Code Raw Whole Food, 2,000 IU
This supplement is perfect for vegetarians who avoid animal-based sources of Vitamin D. Along with raw whole food sources, the formula also includes raw probiotics and enzymes to boost the digestive system.
Sports Research High Potency Vitamin D3, 5,000 IU
This supplement offers the same biologically active type of Vitamin D that the body itself produces. The formula is made with all non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients along with coconut oil, to help boost the body’s absorption of this fat-soluble vitamin.
Before you add Vitamin D supplements to your diet, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to learn what your current Vitamin D levels are. This can help you determine how frequently you should take the supplement.
Even though Vitamin D is a sunshine vitamin, we still need it year-round, come rain or come shine. So, whenever you can, spend a short amount of time in natural sunlight to kickstart your body’s Vitamin D production.
And during darker, sun-less seasons, add Vitamin D-rich foods and even supplements to your diet to make sure you always have enough of this super important nutrient.