Vitamin D benefits your health in so many ways, but do you:
- live in a place where the sun doesn’t shine all year-round?
- work and spend a lot of time indoors?
- regularly consume foods that provide enough vitamin D (which is hard to do)?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s important to make sure that you are getting enough vitamin D because deficiency persists in more than half of the population. (1)
To fully take advantage of the long list of vitamin D benefits, I recommend aiming for optimal levels.
Here's a look at what vitamin D is and the important role it plays in the body, as well as how to optimize your levels. Don’t worry - it's pretty easy to do.
Vitamin D Benefits
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is made in our bodies only when our skin is exposed to the sun and is present only in small amounts in certain foods.
It’s considered an “essential” nutrient because the body cannot make it on its own. And nearly every cell and tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, making it vital to your overall health.
Here are 7 vitamin d benefits:
1. Supports Immunity
You need enough vitamin D in order for your white blood cells that attack pathogens, to do their job properly.
Your immune cells contain receptors for vitamin D, and it’s been shown vitamin D benefits overall immune function in several ways, including by preventing prolonged or excessive inflammatory responses as well as to ward off viruses, infections (including respiratory tract infections), common colds and the flu.
Because it can help control inflammation, it may also play a role in preventing the development of autoimmune disorders, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders
- Skin complaints like eczema & psoriasis
Inflammation is the common link between most chronic health issues, and vitamin D is an essential part of the body’s capability to fight inflammatory storms.(2)
Emerging research shows that vitamin D also helps with gene expression, essentially protecting your genes from DNA damage.
2. Improves Gut Function
You’re no doubt aware of how crucial gut health is to your overall health, and having optimal vitamin D levels can make a big difference.
Vitamin D benefits your gut by promoting beneficial gut bacteria, which, in turn, has a positive effect on your metabolism and mood.
It also plays a key role in the health of your gut mucosal lining, which acts in an anti-inflammatory, anti-infective and immune boosting way to protect against viruses and other pathogens.
But if your gut isn’t metabolizing fats you won’t be able to absorb vitamin D, as it’s a fat soluble nutrient. This is why gut health is so important.
3. Promotes healthy bones
What makes vitamin D good for your bones? The answer lies in the way it helps you absorb calcium, the structural part of your bones.
Calcium and vitamin D are two vital micronutrients that work together in your body to support overall health.
The vitamin D and calcium relationship is super important when it comes to bone metabolism, as both nutrients are key to maintaining the strength of your skeleton. (3)
To boost vitamin D's calcium absorption, try also adding vitamin K2 to your diet and supplement routine.
Vitamin K2 acts as an essential "GPS" for the calcium unlocked by vitamin D, ensuring it gets to the right places in your body, like your bones, while staying out of the wrong places, like your arteries.
In the small intestines, vitamin D works to move the calcium you consume from food into the bloodstream.
Maintaining adequate calcium and vitamin D levels throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
4. Nourishes your skin
Because vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor immune function, increased inflammation, and decreased insulin sensitivity, vitamin d deficiency can absolutely negatively impact the skin.
Poor immune function weakens the skin barrier, increasing dryness and chance of infections, Increased inflammation can worsen inflammatory conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea.
Vitamin D benefits the skin by calming inflammation, protecting the skin, and improving cell repair and metabolism. Vitamin D may even help prevent skin aging. (5)
5. Supports weight management & healthy blood sugar
According to researchers at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, calcium is necessary for insulin release. And vitamin D benefits promote calcium absorption and uptake, therefore helping to regulate insulin release.
In one study, supplementing with vitamin D for 12 weeks decreased body fat by 7%. (6) Now that's a bonus, if you're struggling to manage your weight.
6. Increases physical fitness
Supplementing with this important vitamin has also been shown to boost muscle strength and physical performance, as well as increase balance.
7. Aids better sleep
Sleep is vital to your overall health and wellness, and optimal levels of vitamin D are associated with improved sleep quality. (7)
Signs of low Vitamin D Levels
When you are low in vitamin D you can experience a whole host of symptoms including:
- Higher risk for colds, flu, viruses and infections
- Osteoporosis or bone fractures
- Higher risk for blood sugar problems and high blood pressure
- Greater risk for developing autoimmune diseases
- Low mood
- Higher risk for diabetes
- Chronic joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle cramps
- Skin issues, such as psoriasis
How to optimize your vitamin D levels
Factors affecting vitamin D levels
Your ability to manufacture vitamin D also depends on your skin type (colour), sex, body mass index, physical activity, alcohol intake, and vitamin D receptor polymorphisms (basically, genetic variances).
If you have a vitamin D genetic variance, like me, it's not a huge problem but it will affect your vitamin D status. The VDR gene provides instructions for making a protein called vitamin D receptor (VDR), which facilitates the body's response to vitamin D. (8)
How much vitamin D?
As a Functional Medicine Practitioner, I suggest getting your vitamin D levels checked twice a year (March and October).
Doctors recommend supplementing with vitamin D, but the amount of vitamin D required to optimize your levels depends on your results.
The vitamin D council places the ideal level between 40 and 80ng/ml. In the UK the measure is usually nmol/L, so 60ng/ml is 150nmol/L.
Unless you live in a country where the sun shines all year round, your vitamin D levels will typically be at their highest at the end of summer, and lowest at the end of winter.
You make vitamin D from the sun when you can expose your body - back, arms, legs and abdomen.
A general recommendation is to get about 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight daily, without wearing sunscreen, if you’re colouring is fair-to medium.
If you have dark skin, you likely need more time in the sun, about 40 minutes daily to make enough vitamin D. So maximise absorption of sunlight where you can, in line with safe exposure.
Vitamin D foods
Although it’s hard to get high enough quantities from food to meet your nutritional requirements, it's wise to incorporate vitamin D foods into your diet if you’re not already doing so. The most obvious and readily eaten vitamin D foods include:
- shiitake and button mushrooms (leave mushrooms in the sun to elevate their vitamin D levels)
- Oily fish - e.g. mackerel, wild salmon, sardines,
- Eggs and dairy
Vitamin D Supplements
If you've ever wondered what the difference is between D2 and D3 on supplement labels, let me explain:
There are two forms of vitamin D supplements: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) found in plant products, and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) found in animal products. Vitamin D3 is the more active form and thought to be converted up to 500 times faster than D2. (10)
Why? Our bodies naturally make D3 cholecalciferol. While the body is able to convert some D2 to be used for body functions it’s nothing like D3.
Vitamin D3 from animal products (specifically from the cholesterol within these products) is closest to what sunlight naturally produces in humans when the skin works to convert UV light.
Unfortunately, most vitamin D-fortified foods and dietary supplements mostly contain ergocalciferol (the D2 type), which is neither absorbed or converted as well by the body into what it needs.
Choose bioavailable supplements that work
Also when getting your vitamin D levels up to where they should be, it’s best to include the other fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, and K2.
These vitamins are important in their own right and help balance out the vitamin D, making it more bioavailable but also preventing levels from getting too high.
I take a pharmaceutical grade, cellular nutritional product, called CellSentials which includes all of the fat soluble nutrients. And then I optimise with additional Vitamin D3 & K2 plus, MagnecalD for the right balance of magnesium, calcium and vitamin D.
You can learn more about how to choose the best supplements here.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments below if you found this blog post helpful.
Hi, I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Pain & Stress Management Therapist, and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.
I help people elevate their mind and body health by addressing diet, nutrition and lifestyle symptoms. Let's work together to optimize how you feel and function.
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