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Vitamin D Benefits
Winter is here! Are you getting your daily dose of vitamin D? You may be surprised to learn that during the winter, the sun is too low in the sky for most of the US to receive adequate amounts of UVB radiation or vitamin D.
Many experts believe that, for optimal health, levels should be maintained between 50–80 ng/mL year round. This is easily accomplished by taking 4–5,000 IU of vitamin D per day during the winter months (for the average adult).
To be sure you are taking the correct amount, I highly recommend regular vitamin D3 testing. In my experience, the best and easiest form of vitamin D to absorb and digest is derived from sheep lanolin, rather than from fish.
Here is some of the latest research on the benefits of vitamin D.
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- The New England Journal of Medicine finds that risk of death for intensive care patients is 45% for vitamin D-deficient patients, and only 16% for folks with sufficient vitamin D1: almost three times the risk!!
- As we age, risk of stroke rises, with about 6.8 million Americans living after having a stroke. In one study, having optimal vitamin D levels are associated with a 90% return in functional outcome after a stroke.2
- Vitamin D levels have been linked to accelerated death of beta (insulin-producing) cells in cases of diabetes.3 Today, diabetes is considered the next epidemic.
- In one study, low levels of vitamin D are associated with mood-related issues and psychiatric disorders.4 Vitamin D receptors develop in the brain embryonically, suggesting that Vitamin D is developmentally linked to brain and neurological function.
- In a long-term study conducted over 11 years with 1,650 mother-child pairs, for every 10 ng/mL of vitamin D concentration in the mother’s blood during pregnancy, an 11% decrease in ADHD-like symptoms occurred.5
- In another double-blind placebo study, 218 post-menopausal women are split into two groups. The group that supplemented with 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day had 37% less inflammation in the body compared to the group that received the placebo.6
- In a study from the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 961 female nursing home residents over age 70 are tested for vitamin D. The group with the lowest levels has a 49% increased risk of mortality compared to the group with highest levels.7
- Vitamin D expert Dr. John Cannell has developed a theory that some immune issues are seasonal, due to variations in sunlight, which cause fluctuations in vitamin D levels.8 Vitamin D activates genes that support an immune response to foreign entities in the body.9 Vitamin D has also been shown to support respiratory health.10, 11
- In one therapeutic study, the normalization of vitamin D levels is shown to significantly improve the severity of fatigue symptoms of primary care patients.12
- In a two-year trial of vitamin D supplementation with 1,500 patients, healthy sleep patterns are linked to normal vitamin D levels. The most significant changes are seen when vitamin D levels are kept between 60–80 ng/mL.13
How to Get Enough Vitamin D
Make sure to use an easy-to-absorb supplement. As stated above, I recommend taking 4–5,000 IU of vitamin D derived from sheep lanolin. Unfortunately, very few brands of vitamin D list the source of their vitamin D, most likely because most of them use fish oil. You can find a liquid form of this on my site.
How Do Sheep Create Vitamin D?
UVB rays from the sun combine with sheep lanolin to create pre-vitamin D. The sheep lick their skin and voila! This is similar to the process by which humans absorb pre-vitamin D through the oil on our skin, which combines with UVB radiation and absorbs into the blood. Vitamin D from sheep has a transport process much like humans’ and the only damage to them is a haircut. Fish-based vitamin D is often a challenge to digest, making it difficult to reach optimal levels.
Take your supplement with your earliest and fattiest meal. The meal with the most fat will stimulate better bile flow, which is required to break down vitamin D, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. New research from The Cleveland Clinic indicates that when you take your vitamin D with your main meal, blood levels increase by 50%.14 This means that many folks can cut their vitamin D use in half and still get the same benefits.
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In fact, take all of your fat soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, E, D, K, and any fish oils or omega supplements, with the heaviest or fattiest meal of the day.
Why take it in the morning? Noble Prize-winning science on circadian medicine has shed new light of the timing of taking certain foods, medicines and supplements. We typically get vitamin D from the sun, as opposed to something like melatonin, which we manufacture at night. To help maintain and reset our circadian rhythms, we should take our vitamin D3 with the sun in the same way we take melatonin in the night.
Taking vitamin D3 with a fatty breakfast like eggs or avocado toast is a great strategy to get the biggest bang for your circadian buck.
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Note: If you have trouble metabolizing fats, considering applying the vitamin D3 on your skin topically as it absorbs well and supports the appearance of healthy and radiant skin.
Supplement smartly with vitamin D and this just may be your best winter yet!
Get Your Vitamin D Tested at the End of Winter
North of Atlanta there are basically no UVB rays from the sun from October through April, which means your body can’t make vitamin D from the sun. Folks north of these latitudes should be eating lots of organ meats and fish liver oils – or if they can’t go there – take a vitamin D3 supplement to manage their vitamin D3 levels each winter.
At the end of the winter the vitamin D3 levels will be the lowest of the low all year long, making this a great time to have your vitamin D3 tested. Many of you have been supplementing all winter, and now is the time to see if you have been taking the correct amount.
As summer approaches, the sun rises in the sky earlier, and the sun’s UVB rays that make vitamin D3 on the skin will be making a comeback. If you wait until June to get your vitamin D3 tested, you will have a test that combines the benefits of the June sun with your winter supplementation. The key is to know for sure if your winter dosages of vitamin D3 were enough, so the test should be done before the sun gets too high in the sky – sometime in March, April, or May.
Based on the spring test results, you can then adjust your dosages for the upcoming summer and you will have a better sense of what your winter dose next year should be.
According to the Vitamin D Council, and many experts in this field, we should be maintaining a vitamin D3 level between 50-80ng/mL all year long. To accomplish this, the average adult needs about 4,000-5,000 IU/day in the winter and 1,000-3,000 IU/day in the summer. The summer dose of course depends on how much summer sun you get.
Interestingly, when the levels of vitamin D3 fall below 50ng/mL, the vitamin D3 acts just like a vitamin and protects the bones from bone softening concerns. When vitamin D3 levels rise over 50ng/mL but not over 80-90mg/mL, the vitamin D3 begins to function as a seco-steroid hormone which is considered one of the most beneficial hormones in the body. Optimal levels of vitamin D3 are responsible for innumerable health benefits in the body. We are just like any living creature: if we are taken out of the sun, we begin to wither.
Our problem is that we have not yet adapted to handling a long winter without eating organ meats or the sun’s UVB radiation, and we have not figured out how to genetically adapt to a life indoors. Until then, we need to supplement!
Remember, the UVB rays even in the summer are only strong during the mid-day hours. Morning and evening sun rays, while delightful, carry very little UVB or vitamin D3-making rays. So, to get adequate vitamin D3 in the summer, we need about 10-15 minutes of direct mid-day sun 3-4 days a week, without sun protection (sunscreen). Sunscreen blocks the UVB vitamin D-making rays.
Here is the catch: If you take a shower or jump in a pool within an hour of getting your rays – you can wash off the pre-vitamin D3 that sets up on your skin. The UVB rays on the skin react with the natural oils on the skin to make pre-vitamin D3, and then begin to absorb into the blood stream – where it becomes active vitamin D3 in the liver and kidneys.
Bottom Line: Make a point to get your blood levels checked sometime this spring!
- N Engl J Med. 2009 Apr 30;360(18):1912-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc0809996.