Vitamin D is a critical vitamin and hormone that is essential for preventing many chronic conditions and improving overall immune health.
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What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is considered a hormone. After we are exposed to sunlight, our bodies synthesize Vitamin D and then activate it in the liver and the kidneys. The activated form of Vitamin D helps to regulate the metabolism of calcium.
Deficiencies in Vitamin D can contribute to many chronic conditions such as autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, preeclampsia, and muscle and joint issues. More recently, research is showing that low Vitamin D levels are associated with poor recovery from COVID-19. Vitamin D is very essential, and it is extremely overlooked in our normal blood work panels; thus, we should have our Vitamin D levels checked yearly.
How to optimize your vitamin D
What is the first thing that you can do?
1. Have your levels checked
You want to either ask your medical provider, functional medicine provider, or registered dietitian who could direct you appropriately to getting your levels checked. Then, you want to determine where your serum Vitamin D levels fall:
- If you’re severely deficient, your level will be under 10 ng/mL.
- If you are deficient, you are under 30 ng/mL.
- 30 to 50 ng/mL is suboptimal
- Optimal is 50 to 80 ng/mL.
Many will find themselves with low Vitamin D levels, such as 30 ng/mL. If it’s at 30, that means you’re borderline deficient. If you have a higher level of vitamin D, over 100, you can have a risk of hypercalcemia. The risk is low, but it is there. That means you are not metabolizing calcium properly and you can break down your bones.
What we’re striving for is that 50 to 80 ng/mL range. That seems to be best for innate and adaptive immunity because Vitamin D plays a role in both of those. You’re able to fight infections better and tolerate viruses and bacterial infections.
What do you do after you have your levels checked?
This is going to determine how/if you need to supplement. For example, if you are extremely deficient (30 ng/mL or under), I always recommend that my patients get a prescription dose of Vitamin D. That’s 50,000 IU once a week for at least four weeks, and then you should reassess your serum Vitamin D level. This helps you get a good idea of how well you’re absorbing your Vitamin D, and simultaneously you can start to work on some of the root causes of why you may not be absorbing this nutrient properly.
Sometimes, it’s simply you’re just not getting enough, whether that be a lack of sunlight or not consuming enough Vitamin D-rich food sources. Other times, low Vitamin D can be related to absorption.
If, after taking a prescription dose of Vitamin D for your deficiency you find your levels are still not optimal, consider the daily doses below:
<10 ng/mL – 10,000 units per day
10–20 ng/mL – 10,000 units per day
20–30 ng/mL – 8,000 units per day
30–40 ng/mL – 5,000 units per day
40–50 ng/mL – 2,000 units per day
It might take you six months to a year to figure out exactly how much you need to take. Also, it may differ during the winter months compared to the summer. However, once you’re able to figure that out with consistent testing, you should be able to maintain an optimal vitamin D level.
Sources of vitamin D
The following are rich sources of Vitamin D:
1. Cod oil
This is something you can supplement with. You can use the liquid version, gel cap version, or cod oil itself. Cod oil is one of your best sources of Vitamin D. Things like salmon, mackerel, and tuna fish are also high in Vitamin-D fish. There are other food sources, such as eggs, dairy products, and fortified foods, but they are lower in Vitamin D than cod oil.
Your natural production of Vitamin D is going to come from the sunlight. That occurs from natural pinking from the sun. This is influenced by many factors, such as your age, how much of your skin is covered, and even your skin tone. Somebody with a darker skin tone requires more Vitamin D due to their amount of melanin. Without clothing or sunblock, on average, you’re going to make about 10,000 to 15,000 IUs of Vitamin D in one pinking sun exposure.
Absorption of vitamin D
The last thing you need to consider when optimizing your Vitamin D is your absorption.
Why is it that your Vitamin D levels aren’t budging when you’re already supplementing with Vitamin D, eating the food sources, and exposing yourself to sunlight?
This is where we begin to look at other factors. Is there some kind of malabsorption occurring? Are your liver and kidneys not able to convert Vitamin D? Are you consuming enough fats? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means you must consume adequate dietary fat to help absorb this vitamin. There could be lots of different things affecting your absorption of Vitamin D, such as GI issues, like celiac or Crohn’s disease, IBS, etc. All these things might need to be considered when you’re monitoring your levels.
Vitamin D affects so many aspects of your immune system and overall health. It is necessary that we monitor, supplement as appropriate, and consume foods to optimize our health.
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