Cancer, Diet, Disease, Immune System

5 Things to Know About Vitamin D

The importance of vitamin D is often overlooked, not just by average people, but also by physicians. Extensive research has shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and a number of serious health problems.  As you monitor your own health, ask your doctor to order a blood test to assess your vitamin D level. If you are deficient, make a plan to get your D up to an optimal level.  Your health depends on it!

Here are 5 things everyone should know about vitamin D:

1. Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem.

Although vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin,” it is really a steroid with hormone-like functions that regulate over 200 genes. It is vital for growth, development and ongoing health.  Vitamin D supports your immune system, and protects us from cancer, neurological, cardiovascular and bone health problems. A little bit comes from food you eat, and with adequate sun exposure, you can synthesize more – but you probably don’t have enough.

2.  As many as 75 percent of Americans could be deficient.
Researchers estimate one billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. These include:
  • People who spend most of their time indoors
  • People who live in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Darker-skinned people, because they need more sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as fair-skinned people
  • People who always cover most of their skin with clothing or sunscreen
  • Older people, who have thinner skin and reduced ability to produce vitamin D
  • Overweight people
  • Gastric bypass patients and people who have intestinal disorders
  • Pregnant women, who need a higher level of vitamin D.

3.  If you’re not feeling well, check your vitamin D levels:

These symptoms may mean your levels are low –

  • excessive sweating when temperatures are moderate
  • muscle weakness
  • fragile bones
  • chronic pain and/or aches and pains
  • feeling down or blue, especially in the winter when days are short

If any of these apply to you, begin by learning your vitamin D status.

4. Get tested – and know what to look for.

You can ask your doctor to order a test, or you can order reasonably priced kits online. Your goal is to achieve optimal levels – not adequate. Many doctors look for an “adequate” level of reading of a serum 25-OH vitamin D level greater than 20 ng/ml, but most integrative medicine physicians consider this number to be on the low end. They recommend an optimal range of 50 to 80 ng/ml.

It is wise to work with your doctor to guard against potential interactions with medications.

5. Act to maintain healthy levels.

  • Check your level twice a year, spring and fall.
  • Expose your skin to a moderate amount of sun. Just 15 minutes a day at midday can help boost levels, depending on your skin tone.
  • If sun exposure is not an option, make sure you supplement. Use vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the type of vitamin D your body produces in response to sun exposure. Take your vitamin D3 supplement (preferably combined with vitamin K2) with a meal that includes some healthy fat. Most people need anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 units/day, depending on their blood levels.
  • Be on the lookout for symptoms of excessive D3, including a metallic taste in the mouth, increased thirst, itchy skin, muscle aches and pains, frequent urination, nausea, diarrhea, and/or constipation. All of these could be signs that your D3 dose may be too high, although this is very rare.