Today's Post is Brought to You by the Letter: D
Last week, we covered the benefits of sunshine and found many are related to how it ramps up our body's production of Vitamin D. This week, we are going to look specifically at the role Vitamin D plays in health (or lack thereof). If you are just joining us, we are hitting some of the highlights of the Paleo Movement, as outlined by a special edition of Paleo Magazine entitled: "Go Paleo: The Step-by-Step Guide." You can review last week's post here.
According to the article, the nine most common symptoms of low Vitamin D levels are:
- Blood sugar issues
- Low bone density
- Joint pain (especially in the back and knees)
- Low immunity
- Mood changes and irritability
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Weight gain
An article in Aging and Disease discusses the relationship between low Vitamin D levels and health issues in the following categories:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Immune system disorders
- Neuropsychiatric disorders
When it comes to Vitamin D levels in your body, the magic number is between 40 and 60 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter). Interestingly, the majority of people in the U.S. have a Vitamin D level below 40. According to the article in Paleo Magazine, the best test for this is the blood test called 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test.
Where You Live Might Matter!
According to the International Journal of Research and Public Health, anyone north of the 35th parallel may be at a higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency-related disorders. The 35th parallel is clear down in Tennessee and Georgia!
Vitamin D levels are a complex dance between your diet, natural skin pigmentation, and typical sun exposure. However, it appears that the farther north you live, the less likely you are to have adequate levels in your body.
How Much Sun?
The article in Paleo Magazine gives some general guidelines and tips:
- Those with fair skin require less sun to produce Vitamin D.
- The sun must penetrate the skin for Vitamin D production.
- Going without sunglasses outdoors in the daylight for 10-15 minutes is linked to significant health benefits.
- Spending several minutes exposing the largest parts of your body (chest, back, arms, and legs) to the sun every day without sunscreen can optimize Vitamin D production.
- Sun exposure is most effective when the sun's rays are at their peak: 10am-4pm.
If you are like me, at this point, part of you is saying: _But what about the risk of skin cancer?_We covered a little bit about that last week by referencing an article by Dr. Mercola.
Two points in his article stood out to me:
- Increased Vitamin D production is not the only benefit of sun exposure. Thus, taking Vitamin D supplements, instead of getting out in the sun, can still leave you at risk to disease states.
- There has actually been some research on the avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death. The conclusion was that women in Sweden who regularly made a point to get sun exposure were at a lower risk for heart disease and non-cancerous death -- they lived longer. They went so far as to say avoiding sun exposure was a risk factor for an early death on the same magnitude as smoking!
What About Food and Supplements as Sources of Vitamin D?
While the article in Paleo Magazine doesn't cover this aspect of Vitamin D, I think it is important to cover, especially as I write this on a cold, dark December morning in Indiana. Walking around outside in my shorts for 30 minutes is just not going to happen anytime in the near future! So, for those of us living north of the 35th parallel, we need to consider some supplemental forms of Vitamin D during this part of the year.
Food Sources: cold-water ocean caught fish, eggs, and mushrooms - these are your best options to get some naturally occurring Vitamin D. Eat up!
Supplements: Like any healthcare provider, I am hesitant to give a specific recommendation, since everyone is unique! Instead, I will give some general guidelines:
- Remember that optimum blood levels are 40-60 ng/ml.
- Vitamin D3 is thought to have an advantage over D2.
- Vitamin D3 is better absorbed in the presence of another vitamin - K2. Look for this on your Vitamin D supplement bottle.
- For most people, it looks like 3000IU daily (IU is how they measure amounts for Vitamin D supplements) is adequate to raise blood levels for most people into the acceptable range after about six weeks.
- If you are obese, you may need more than 3000IU per day.
- Vitamin D toxicity is likely rare at the above-noted amounts.
You can read this article from the journal Nutrients for more information on Vitamin D deficiency, sufficiency, and toxicity.
Most of the drug interactions I could find with Vitamin D centered around a condition called hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood). Conversely, a number of medications can cause a reduction in the absorption of Vitamin D.
For the most part, Vitamin D is found to be a very safe and very helpful supplement, but if you are taking other medications, I would check to see if any are listed in the article. It may affect how much or how little Vitamin D you should be taking. As always, if in doubt, ask!
Safe to Shore in the Sunshine!
I will end this article like I have several others in our series and answer the question: "What do you and Dr. Sue do?"
- In the winter (November through April), we try to take 5000IU of Vitamin D3 with K2, Monday through Friday.
- In the winter, we try to walk outside daily, mostly without sunglasses.
- In the summer, we try to walk outside most days wearing shorts and short-sleeve shirts.
- In the summer, we use sunscreen on our ears, nose, and face. We avoid getting burned and, if we are going to be outside longer than an hour, we will often apply sunscreen on other areas as well (after the hour is up).
- In the summer, we may cut our dose of Vitamin D3 in half.
Remember, like all things, sunshine in moderation can have some really powerful health benefits. Common sense and some Vitamin D3/K2 supplementation can combine to help you stay healthy and live longer!
Next week, we are going to wrap up our series on Paleo with an article on one of my favorite topics: Movement!
Yours in Health,