Spring is the perfect time to pay a little attention to a critical nutrient in which most people are (almost for sure) deficient. The mental health benefits of Vitamin D cannot be touted enough. It is one of our strongest supporters of a healthy mood and is an anti-depression hero. (If you deal with the blues, especially in the winter months, pay good attention!) This is one of the must-have supplements that I suggest to all of my clients.
In addition to a brighter mood, optimal vitamin D levels decrease inflammation while increasing immunity, bone strength, metabolism, sleep quality, heart and reproductive health, athletic performance, and healthy hair, skin, and eyes. A D deficiency has been found in cancer patients at increased rates and many experts are using D to fight cancer and increase longevity (the latter has been found in people living near the equator, where sun is (obvs) readily available).
Unfortunately, some estimates show up to 85% of Americans to be deficient in this important vitamin.
D-creating UVB rays simply aren’t available to most of us during half of the year, because most of us don’t live near the equator. Many of us, even in the summertime, fail to get enough sun at the right times, because we live most of our lives inside (especially during 10 AM to 2 PM), and because we have been taught to wear sunscreen. We are, therefore, at high risk for D deficiency.
Wait, what? A note about sunscreen. Most sunscreens effectively block out UVB rays, which are, unfortunately, the ones that actually protect our skin and convert sunshine into D3 on our skin. Recent research has shown that it’s actually the UVA rays that are the most harmful in terms of abnormal cell growth. (Not to mention the long list of toxins found in most commercial screens, ironically, many potentially cancer-causing, buuuuut that’s beyond my scope today. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide here.)
Most people only need about 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to your arms and legs (read: without sunscreen, without long pants or sleeves) a day to increase D levels; darker-skinned people likely need more. Skin should turn pink, not burn. Wait at least an hour before showering following sun exposure. Do this during the late spring, summer, and early fall.
This is actually the best way to get your vitamin D. Second best is to supplement with a high quality D3 – for adults, about 2,000 IU’s per day during the summer (if you’re getting sunshine as well). During the winter, you’ll need to up your intake to about 4,000 IU’s per day until you reach an optimal level, then cut back a bit. (I like the D3 Serum from Premier Research Labs or the drops from Carlson.)
You can also look to your diet to up you D levels, but don’t rely on that alone (especially if you avoid animal products). The highest counts are found in fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel), with (much) lower amounts in raw milk and eggs.
You can ask your doctor for a vitamin D check, ideally in the spring (when levels should be lowest, following winter) and the fall (when levels should be highest, following summer). Your levels should be around 50-80ng/ml, which is the higher end of “normal.”
*I hope you appreciate my sweet alliteration skills.