Vitamin D - A Vital Nutrient You May Be Missing Out On
Updated: Jan 19
So chances are, you are probably not getting enough Vitamin D. That said, if you are invested in building up your immune defenses this winter (or anytime), struggling to find relief from Seasonal Affective Disorder during these long, darker days of winter, or even experiencing challenging symptoms related to auto-immune and gut issues, Vitamin D may be an important piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, D deficiency is all too common, may be compromising health in overt and subtle ways and yet, it's typically not very difficult to treat!
Vitamin D tells an interesting story and as you read on, you'll see why now is a very good time to be sharing it!
(Above, broiled salmon with a cumin, cayenne
garlic rub, yuuuum! See recipe below!)
Vitamin D - An Under-Rated Powerhouse
Vitamin D is a powerhouse, regulating and controlling gene expression, playing a crucial role in many body systems.
With its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory benefits, Vitamin D may reduce muscle pain while also playing a crucial role in bone health. Beyond these benefits, Vitamin D is necessary for optimal immune function, mood regulation and gut health. As we step into our 2nd pandemic year, D deficiency is not only closely linked with higher rates of influenza but also Covid-related complications and death. A study in Spain found 80 PERCENT of Covid patients were D deficient! Deficiency is also common in auto-immune disorders and impacts the integrity of the lining of the gut, potentially contributing to “leaky gut” and a cascade of challenging symptoms such as gas, bloating, brain fog and migraines.
Factors That May Undermine D Status
Those lacking direct sun exposure (esp. related to latitude).
Heavy use of sunscreen.
Older individuals and those with darker skin who produce less vitamin D from the sun.
Vegans, vegetarians and anyone else who may not be taking in Vitamin D rich foods on a consistent basis.
Eating patterns that lack dietary fat, necessary for optimal Vitamin D absorption.
Kidney, liver and GI conditions that cause nutrient malabsorption (I.e. Crohns, IBS) as well as gut permeability.
Those carrying extra weight; Vitamin D gets sequestered in fat, making it less available for use by the body.
Degree of inflammation in the body that can impair D absorption.
Where Can We Get VItamin D?
Food Sources: Ironically, as important as this nutrient is to our health, it’s barely available in our food supply. Fatty fish (find sustainable options here!), mushrooms (those exposed to UV light) and egg yolks are our richest, natural sources. Most of us get our fix through fortified milk and alternative milk products and still, less than 8% of the population actually get the recommended amount each day from food. Vegans and vegetarians may have an especially challenging time getting their needs met through diet.
Sunlight: Besides food, the only other natural means of meeting our D needs is through our skin’s exposure to UVB rays from the sun. In summer, we protect our skin from UV damage using sunscreen. In winter, especially at northern latitudes, we may not see or step into the sun for days - and unfortunately, UVB rays aren’t penetrating through windows! Under both circumstances we are probably making no Vitamin D at all. Get anywhere from 5-30 minutes of sun exposure, between 10 and 4pm, at least twice a week (daily for those with lower levels), to the face, arms, hands, and legs without sunscreen. Be sure to avoid sun burning.
Supplements: Vitamin D supplementation has become quite common and is generally considered to be safe, apart from those with kidney insufficiency who should confer with their health practitioner. The recommended daily allowances are set at 600IUs per day - most healthcare professionals don’t think this is enough, raising supplementation recommendations to 2000IUs vitamin D per day. And yet, many experts believe this is STILL not enough for those who aren’t getting enough sun exposure. Talk with your doctor to determine the levels that are right for you.
Recap: Strategies For Getting Enough D
Include vitamin D rich foods consistently; check food labels to be sure you are choosing fortified milk and milk alternatives.
Be sure to include a source of healthy fat in your diet to ensure absorption from sun, food and supplements.
Get anywhere from 5-30 minutes of sun exposure, between 10 and 4pm, at least twice a week (daily for those with lower levels), to the face, arms, hands, and legs without sunscreen. Be sure to avoid sun burning.
A routine annual physical is a very good idea and especially to keep an eye on your D levels. If your levels are low, use supplementation to correct it and have it rechecked to ensure adequate absorption. Confer with your MD for doses beyond 2000IUs /day.
When supplementing, be sure to take the active form - Vitamin D3.
Work with a trained nutrition practitioner/Registered Dietitian who can help you assess the root cause of your D deficiency through a lifestyle assessment.
Broiled Salmon with Cumin, Garlic, Cayenne Rub
To prepare the rub:
2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust according to heat preference)
Combine and incorporate all ingredients well.
To prepare the salmon:
2 - 5oz salmon filets
2 Tsp olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 450 deg.
Sprinkle 1 tsp rub mixture on top of salmon
Transfer to a non-stick pan and add olive oil.
When oil sizzles (but not smoking) add salmon
Cook on both sides approx. 3 minutes each until nicely browned. Transfer to the oven and finish cooking until preferred doneness, approx. 5-7 more minutes (I like mine rare.)
Alison Acerra MS, RDN founded Strategic Nutrition Design where she and her team provide nutrition services to businesses, employers, groups and individuals. If you would like to schedule a discovery call to learn how she can help you or your business, contact her here.