We all like to think our bodies are fine until something goes really wrong. Lately, my energy has been unreliable, I’ve been experiencing depression even though life is going well, and things just weren’t right with my body. I visited my doctor, who next sent me off for blood work. We’re still waiting for full-on allergy testing. The blood panels clearly indicated that one major thing problem is that my vitamin D levels are low. After a few weeks of consistent vitamin D supplements, I can honestly say- WOW! The mental and physical fog is beginning to clear.
Despite the name, vitamin D works as both a vitamin and a hormone. “Like other vitamins, a lack of dietary vitamin D (coupled with minimal sun exposure) causes a deficiency. The active form of vitamin D is like a hormone because it is made in one part of the body and regulates activities in other parts.”(1)
It’s one of four fat-soluble vitamins required for the body to function properly. Fat-soluble vitamins pose a greater risk of toxicity when consumed in excess. Good news, vitamin D can be a tricky one to get quite enough. What does it do? Vitamin D helps with healthy bone growth; it promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gastrointestinal tract. As a hormone, it “also helps to regulate the immune system, lower blood pressure, protect against depression, and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and several kinds of cancer.”(2)
We all know we need sunlight, that it’s the primary way to get our daily amounts of vitamin D. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people helpfully suggest, “Get more sun! And wear sunblock, too. Don’t burn your skin and get skin cancer!”
Sigh. Vitamin D or skin cancer? It already feels like a losing scenario.
Sunshine is the most efficient way to obtain vitamin D, but it’s not always possible. Many of us also need sunblock to reduce rates of skin cancer. Sadly, it also prevents the chemical reaction caused (that creates the vitamin) when our skin is exposed to sunlight.
Living in an area with frequent overcast skies means that there’s even less opportunity to absorb the necessary amounts of sunlight. This contributes to what is frequently seen as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during winter months.
If you’re vegetarian, I have some bad news. “Plants are a poor source, so strict vegetarians must get their vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.”(3) For the rest of us, check out some of your dietary options below.
Natural food sources
- Wild-caught oily fish (herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod liver oil, other fish oils)
- Shiitake mushrooms
Fortified food sources
- Breakfast cereal
- Orange juice
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in adults include getting sick often, fatigue, depression, bone/back/muscle pain, impaired healing, even bone and hair loss.(4) The most awful effect of deficiency shows up in children as a condition called rickets. (Google it for visual impact.)
Remember how earlier I mentioned that the four fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic? Things to look out for if you over-supplement with vitamin D include elevated blood and blood calcium levels, bone loss, kidney failure, and a wealth of GI issues such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea.(5)
The good news? Toxicity for this one will only come from over-supplementation Being in the sun and getting it from food won’t produce overly high levels.
If you wonder if you may be experiencing effects caused by a vitamin deficiency, talk to your doctor first about blood work. It’s very probable that your doctor will decide to have a handful of blood panels run. Just because Google or WebMD may seem to indicate one thing, results from blood tests will help you treat yourself wisely
Do you notice your health or mood being impacted when the skies are constantly grey? How do you get in your vitamin D?
(1) (Insel 404) Insel, Paul. Nutrition, 5th Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 20130318. VitalBook file.
(3) (Insel 408) Insel, Paul. Nutrition, 5th Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 20130318. VitalBook file