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A Little Drop of Sunshine: Six Reasons You Need to Know Your Vitamin D Levels

Thursday, October 09, 2014

 

Photo Credit: Jamie In Bytown via Compfight cc

The first day of autumn greeted Portland this year with rain. Right on cue. The disappearance of sunshine is a phenomenon both welcomed and feared by most in the Pacific NW, as we somehow crave the cocoon of the clouds while at the same time fearing that it will mean that the sun will never, ever, ever return. Along with the sun disappears our ability to soak up that sweet nectar, Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is produced in your body by a series of reactions that happen after UVB rays are absorbed by your skin. Once in your bloodstream, this vitamin goes to work. Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption, and according to the NIH website, “your muscles need it to move, [...] your nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs [it] to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.” 

The problem is that nearly everyone is deficient. Estimates suggest that 75% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient, and that deficiency may be leading to a whole host of problems. Deficiency has so far been linked to a staggering list of health issues, and on the flip-side, getting adequate levels of Vitamin D may be protective to still more diseases.

Here are a few areas with promising research on the benefits of getting adequate levels of Vitamin D:

Pregnancy

A recent study suggests that women who take 4000 IU/day had the greatest chance of preventing pre-term birth and infection. Deficiency is also associated with gestational diabetes and pre- elampsia.

Mental Health

A common issue in the Pacific Northwest is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and preliminary research indicates that increasing levels of Vitamin D may be a treatment for SAD.

Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, research points to the possibility that higher levels of Vitamin D reduce the risk of getting colorectal cancer. Another study showed that women who had higher levels of Vitamin D had “significantly less risk for all types of cancer combined" than did women with lower levels of Vitamin D. If you google “cancer and vitamin d” you will find suggestions of lowered cancer risk with higher vitamin d levels all over the internet. It is thought that it works by preventing abnormal / cancer cells from replicating, thus halting progression of the disease.

Cardiovascular Disease

Numerous studies suggest that people with low levels of Vitamin D are at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

Diabetes 

Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to increased risk of Type 1 diabetes. It is also suggested that getting sufficient levels of vitamin D could be protective against getting Type 2 diabetes. It is thought that it may help your body regulate insulin output, thus defending against insulin resistance.

Osteoporosis
Now this may not seem like an exciting category, but it is the case that in America, complications from hip fractures are the 3 leading cause of death in women over the age of 60. Luckily, research suggests that by just increasing blood levels of Vitamin D to 25 ng/mL (which is not even close to the optimum range), you could see your risk of developing osteoporosis decrease by 43%.

Now that you are aware that there are many benefits to be had with maintaining optimum levels of Vitamin D, you need to know how to find out what your levels are, and how to increase those blood levels of Vitamin D.

  • Ask your doctor for this Vit D test: 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D) 50-80 ng/mL is ideal recommended by the NIH. If your levels are low, your doctor should be able to tell you how much you will need to supplement in order to raise those levels. You should also schedule a follow-up appointment for 3 months later so that your levels can be monitored. Do not attempt to self-prescribe Vitamin D supplements, as it does have the potential for toxicity if !you get too much.
  • 15 minutes of daily exposure at peak time (noon-1 pm) on the soft parts of the skin (think inner arm, back of the knee) without sunscreen would be enough Vitamin D intake for most of you. If you have naturally darker skintone, it will take you 3-5X longer in the sun to receive the same benefits.
  • Because being in the sun is not always an option (think office job, rainy season), you can supplement with Vitamin D. The best way to get it, though is in food, like fatty foods such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, eggs, and beef liver, and cod liver oil. If you need to supplement, check with your natural health provider for their recommendations, and always make sure that you take D3 instead of any other variety.

 

Some serious research is piling up about the benefits and the risk-reducing nature of Vitamin D. Even if 20% of what researchers are finding turns out to be accurate, you will be glad you started focusing on getting adequate Vitamin D intake. Go get tested to find out where your levels stand. Then the next time Oregon is graced with sunshine, push up your sleeves and soak it up!

Erin Brockmeyer, LA©, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website www.solsticeacupuncture.com for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.  

Banner Photo Credit: Jamie In Bytown via Compfight cc

 

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