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Vitamin D & The Power of Sunlight

You’re on the road to recovery. You’re eating better, feeling better, sleeping better, and your doctor even tells you your cholesterol is going down and with it, your risk of heart disease.

You start to think that maybe you have it figured out.

And then you go and hear something like this:

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In this video, Richard Weller tells us of new findings that when our bodies make their own vitamin D it helps prevent heart disease, while taking vitamin D without sun exposure does no such thing.

So apparently it’s no longer not enough to be eating well, managing stress, and getting good exercise, now we have to prance around in the sun all day to avoid being sick?

Not exactly.

None of us can be perfect. Sure, your body would prefer to make its own vitamin D, but it can’t necessarily have everything it wants.

The fact is, the statistics that say things like “do this and you’ll be at a higher risk of that,” are flattening. By that I mean they look at the average person, not the outlier.

You are an outlier.

You’re much better informed than most people. Therefore, by not getting enough sun exposure, you are not necessarily liable to a higher risk of heart disease than others.

Why not? Because if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you know about the far higher risk factors of heart disease, namely anything that causes chronic inflammation, such as refined carbohydrate products.

In other words: On your journey to a healthier you, you don’t have to become a nudist.

We can get most of the benefits of vitamin D without spending all our time in the sun, and while it’s not the “perfect natural ideal”, it still does a lot of wonderful things for us.

Should You Take Vitamin D Supplements?

If you can spend all day naked in the sun, good for you, we’re all very jealous, but the practical realities of the modern world force most of us to deprive our bodies of nourishing quantities of sunshine from time to time.

Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you have to be vitamin D deficient. In fact, there’s no reason to be if you have access to Amazon.com. Vitamin D improves your:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Fertility
  • Bone density
  • Cancer resilience
  • Immune function

More than half of the world’s population is estimated to be vitamin D deficient, according to this study, which mentions “a resurgence of rickets among children of ethnic minority groups in Europe and Australasia.”

The Vitamin D Council recommends that you take 1,000 IU for every 25 pounds of body weight, daily. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Sleep

Vitamin D production in the body is inversely proportional to melatonin, our primary sleepy hormone. It makes sense that when the sun is at it’s brightest, it’s generally not a natural time to hit the sack.

I’ve found two self-experiments on how vitamin D affects sleep. Sleep quality was measured with a home EEG kit (device that measures brain activity when asleep). Both found that taking vitamin D in the morning made them sleep more deeply at night. However, taking it just before going to bed actually disrupted their sleep, so bare that in mind if you incorporate this into your own schedule.

You can read about these self-experimenters here and here.

Mood

Vitamin D receptors have been found in many areas of the brain, especially those linked to areas involved in the development of depression, and stimulation of these receptors seems to have a positive impact on serotonin levels.

The scientific research into the link between vitamin D and depression is new, and therefore admittedly limited. A 2013 meta-analysis looked at 13 studies that were deemed worthy to have a say in the matter, which altogether involved more than 31,000 participants.

It was found that there was a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and depression. However, they couldn’t conclusively say whether the deficiency caused the depression, or the depression caused the deficiency, at least not with the data from these studies.

There’s no need to wait for the research to catch up, since taking sensible amounts of vitamin D is perfectly safe. If you suffer from depression, this could be one of the tools you use on your journey back to health.

Fertility

There’s some convincing evidence out there that vitamin D is a critical part of sexual reproduction.

A study on rats, our fellow mammals, found that “vitamin D deficiency reduced overall fertility by 75%”. It also made their litters smaller, and impaired neonatal growth.

Supplementing with vitamin D has been found to increase the success of in-vitro fertilization in humans.

Study after study has piled more evidence on the importance of adequate vitamin D for pregnant women, for both the health of the mother, and the health of the baby.

Bone Density

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium into hard tissues such as bone and teeth, and it also seems to aid calcium absorption in the gut.

The research shows that women who are deficient in vitamin D are 77% more likely to suffer a hip fracture! I don’t like the sounds of those odds.

Cancer Resilience

Of all women with breast cancer, 70% of them were vitamin D deficient, according to this study, and according to this one, supplementing with it decreased risk of all cancers in postmenopausal women.

Drugs designed to prevent cancer might not be any more effective that vitamin D therapy, according to JoEllen Welsh, research of the State University of New York at Albany. Dr Welsh had this to say about it:

“What happens is that vitamin D enters the [cancer] cells and triggers the cell death process. It’s similar to what we see when we treat cells with Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer.”

Immune Function

Killer Cells, the powerful front-liners of your immune system team, are dependent on vitamin D for signaling, both to start attacking things and to stop.

The human body burns through about 3,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D a day. You don’t want that to be running too low next time you get exposed to the flu and need to call on your Killer Cells for help!

Is it Possible to Take Too Much Vitamin D?

Absolutely. It’s possible to overdose on anything, even water!

If you take around 40,000 IU a day for a few months you put yourself in danger of toxicity.

The Vitamin D Council recommends that most adults do not exceed 10,000 IU a day. For kids, the upper limit is 2,000 IU. IU simply stands for International Unit. Not very descriptive, I know, but you’ll find it on the bottle.

Plug your weight into the following equation to see how much you should (probably) be taking:

(Weight in pounds ÷ 25 ) x 1,000 = recommended daily intake (IU)

Remember that this is a rough guideline. It can change based on your age, skin color, and normal sun exposure. The only way to be sure is to get tested regularly, to see what your levels actually are.

It’s not critical to be precise, though. Just don’t start pushing 10,000 IU a day unless you’ve talked it through with your doctor.

Natural Sources

Image source: Flickr

Image source: Flickr

Sunlight, as we all know, triggers our body to create it’s own vitamin D.

Specifically, it’s the interaction of UVB light and a derivative of cholesterol in your skin that triggers its production, and as we saw in the TEDtalk above, the process itself promotes good health, and not just the nutrient that we get as a result.

Don’t worry too much about blocking all your skin’s rays with sunscreen. It seems that using a sensible sunscreen (not too strong) doesn’t significantly inhibit vitamin D production.

However, there’s also research to support that supplementing with vitamin D can prevent burning all by itself, and a bunch of bloggers have found it works well for them. It’s a bit of a chicken-egg situation, but it’s interesting that while we all know that getting a tan helps you to not burn, we’ve all assumed it was the melanin in the skin (the darkening pigment).

Turns out, the vitamin product itself stops us from burning!

Food Sources

If you’d like to increase vitamin D levels through your food, don’t scrimp on the quality of your meat. Pastured bacon contains high levels of vitamin D, whereas factory farmed bacon is deficient in it.

Also plentiful are:

  • Salmon
  • Oysters
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Liver (of course!)

P.S. If you like to use “top 10 best sources of” lists like this one, skip right over any food that says “fortified”. It really annoys me, because mud would be high in a vitamin if you fortified it, it doesn’t make it healthy!

(Feature image source: Loowgren on Flickr)

 

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