As Winter comes around most people are missing out on more than just the warm weather. With sunlight hours few and far between many people don’t receive as much vitamin D as they should. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for both children and adults but it can be difficult to get receive healthy amounts during the cooler darker months.
People naturally get their vitamin D from the sun but when there isn’t enough sunlight you can always use supplementation to make sure you are getting enough. But why is getting enough vitamin D so important?
Understanding how our bodies work is essential to staying both fit and healthy. In this article we plant to answer the questions of what vitamin D is, how our bodies get it, and why it’s so important to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D all year long!
What is vitamin D?
Active vitamin D, also known as calciferol, is a natural vitamin that’s created when ultraviolet light hits our skin. Because most of our vitamin D comes from the sun its name is also a slightly inaccurate term. Unlike other essential vitamins only about 10% of our required vitamin D comes from food. The truth is that vitamin D is really a prohormone. Prohormones are materials that our bodies convert into hormones.
In its original form our bodies can’t actually use vitamin D. It has to processed into an active form of vitamin D, calcidiol or calcitriol, by our bodies first. Once it has been processed our bodies use vitamin D for a variety of essential functions. For example, processed vitamin D allows our bodies to absorb calcium and phosphate. These nutrients are important for the health and development of bone, teeth, and muscles.
Vitamin D also performs numerous minor roles in our bodies. Vitamin D promotes anti-inflammation, modulates some cell growth, boosts our immune system, and helps with glucose metabolism. Vitamin D also has the ability to slow rapid cell growth which can protect from cancer development. Most of these roles are especially effective because every cell in the human body has the ability to interact with vitamin D!
How do we get vitamin D?
The average person gets roughly 10% of their vitamin D from food and the rest comes from exposure to ultraviolet light. So, how does the human body turn that UV light into a prohormone?
One of the many chemicals in our skin is called 7-dehydrocholesterol. When exposed to the right amount of UV radiation this chemical is converted to previtamin D3 which then turns into vitamin D3 when exposed to more UV radiation. Vitamin D3 is the most natural form of vitamin D that our bodies produce.
Once we get to the point of having this active form of vitamin D, our bodies need additional help in being able to use it; optimal amounts of the mineral magnesium are essential in increasing vitamin D’s bio-availability.
Vitamin D production through exposure to sunlight is effective but it is also inconsistent with production being influenced by a variety of factors. Some of the biggest factors include the season, time, location, and air quality. Production of vitamin D can also differ from person to person. People with different skim pigmentations will produce vitamin D at different rates. Using sunscreen, umbrellas, or other forms of protection will also make a difference.
Most of our vitamin D should come from the sun but what if you just can’t get outside? Here is a short list of food that can help boost your Vitamin D levels:
- Fatty fish: Many fish have naturally high levels of vitamin D with some that are significantly higher than others. Salmon is one of the best ways to get vitamin D with some Wild caught salmon containing anywhere from 60-120% of your daily requirements. Farmed salmon is also a good option but it has much lower levels of vitamin D at about 25% of your daily value. If you don’t like salmon don’t worry, Herring, Sardines, and Cod are also great options
- Mushrooms: Like fish different mushrooms have differing levels of vitamin D. Chestnut mushrooms have the highest levels of vitamin D with over 100% of your daily value if you eat 1 cup. Some other mushrooms that are high in vitamin D: Portabella, maitakes, white button, morels, and chanterelles mushrooms.
Note: Just like people mushrooms make their vitamin D from sunlight. By placing mushrooms in the sun for half an hour you can boost their vitamin D levels.
- Fortified Foods: some foods can be artificially fortified to have high levels of vitamin D. Cow milk and soy milk are both great options for fortification. In many countries its common practice to fortify all milk with vitamin D. Orange juice is another drink that’s commonly fortified. Vitamin supplements are also a good option.
Why it’s so important to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D?
We get most of our vitamin D from the sun so in winter most people get significantly less than they need. This indoor lifestyle can lead to a serious problem with vitamin D deficiencies. There are ways around this through diets and supplementation but what happens when you don’t get enough vitamin D?
Too little vitamin D can lead to poor bone growth with potential for problems like osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children. Individual with low levels of vitamin D are also prone to falls and fall related injuries. Other issues can include a weak immune system, development of diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D also helps your body maintain high levels of Serotonin. Serotonin is also known as the happy hormone because it helps people stabilize their mood, promotes a feeling of well-being, and improves overall happiness. Because of its effects on serotonin production scientific studies have associated a lack of vitamin D with depression.
One specific area of research is the relationship between vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). By giving people who suffer from SAD (seasonal depression) UV light therapy it was found that one hour of light therapy could significantly decrease their depressive symptoms. It was also found that a strong Vitamin D supplement can also help with their symptoms.
Too little vitamin D can lead to problems with development, immune health, and depression but too much vitamin D can also be a danger. Too much vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium in your blood causing hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia can lead to depression, headaches, confusion, constipation, and nausea!
Vitamin D is an essential prohormone when it comes to immune health, healthy bones development, and serotonin production. Because of its importance in maintaining your health its important to know how to get it. Staying in the sun is always a good option but its important to stay safe and keep from burning. It can also be hard to get enough sun during the winter months when it gets dark so early and we spend more time indoors. Because of this its important to add vitamin D to our diets when we are trapped indoors.
It’s also possible to get enough vitamin D from our food but doing this enough every day can be both difficult and expensive. Another good option is using vitamin supplements. Talking with your doctor can help you find the best supplements to keep you healthy!
At Weight Loss Direct we believe that taking good care of your body is important. By making sure you are getting enough vitamin D you are putting yourself on a good path to live a happy and healthy life.