Shedding Some Light on the Sunshine Vitamin
You don't have to be one of my readers to know about vitamin D. But it surely doesn't hurt.
Because I love it and talk about it a whole lot.
The benefits of vitamin D started getting attention when it came to bone health a long time ago. Deficiencies of this nutrient were linked to a condition called rickets. Much like scurvy and vitamin C.
But protecting your bones is only part of the story. We've come to find out vitamin D is important for immune health, heart health, blood sugar management and even mood.
And this is only a partial list. So we know it's important and we try to have enough. But far too many of us aren't there yet.
It's hard to get vitamin D from food, even if you are a great eater. The best dietary sources are fatty fish, egg yolks and liver.
When it comes to fish, wild caught salmon is far better than farmed fish – to the tune of 75-90% more vitamin D per serving. As for eggs, I love them, I eat them often, but in the end they're not contributing much D.
Don't even come at me with liver. Sorry, I just can't.
Some people believe that they're getting enough D from "fortified foods," or those spiked with a dusting of this essential vitamin. But the foods most fortified with vitamin D are things we probably don't eat a lot of, or probably shouldn't, like milk and cereals.
So where does that leave us? Sunshine and supplements.
One study showed that 40 minutes per week of whole body exposure on your skin (like in a tanning booth) would deliver the equivalent of 2,000 IU per day. But who uses those anymore? And in the dead of winter, when it's cold and you're covered up, you're not going to want to go sunning in the buff outdoors.
(My neighbors are happy about that.)
So choosing a supplement and adding it to your routine is vital. But it's what you take with vitamin D that can be just as important too.
Magnesium is needed to activate vitamin D. All of the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D also require magnesium, which acts as a partner in the enzymatic reactions in your liver and kidneys. Simply put, magnesium activates D, so if you're low on that, you're likely low on both.
A famous population study, known as "NHANES," showed with a sample of 5,000 Americans, that high intakes of magnesium correlated with reduced risk of vitamin D deficiency. Researchers also found that the link between low vitamin D blood levels and heart health.
And when it comes to vitamin D absorption, fats are good. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it travels easily through cell membranes. Because it's fat-soluble, fellow fats will help it along its way.
Research has found that vitamin D can be increased in the blood in the presence of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, as well as beef.
So magnesium and fats are good. But what's bad?
Well for one thing, sugar is bad. Very bad. But we all know this for many reasons, and vitamin D is just another one.
An animal study found that excessive fructose consumption can inactivate blood levels of vitamin D and turn it to its inactive form. It makes it less useful.
So when you see things like high fructose corn syrup on a label, know that it can make you D-deficient.
I'm talking about sodas and other drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, jellies and more. These things are harming you at a molecular level.
And aging doesn't help with vitamin D levels either. As our skin gets older, it has less ability to produce vitamin D. Between ages 20 and 80, your skin gets 50% less efficient at doing the job.
Of course, as much as you'd like, you can't change your age.
But by paying attention to your diet and careful supplementation, you can change your vitamin D status.
One last thing. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it gets stored in your fat. Now you might be thinking, "Hey, maybe this belly is good for something after all. I can store up a little D for later..."
Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Your body stores the fat, but doesn't let it go. That means if you're heavy, you don't get to use all the vitamin D you might be producing or consuming.
So you have two choices. Either up your vitamin D consumption, or drop a few pounds.
Ultimately, I'd recommend both in the end. Of course, one is significantly easier than the other, but it's still worth making the effort.