Vitamin D: It’s not just for the grey of winter

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It may seem counterintuitive to write about the importance of Vitamin D as we’re heading closer to the summer months and more days filled with sunshine vs. the grey and dark of winter. Here’s the problem—often, people believe that as long as they spend enough time outdoors in the summer, their Vitamin D levels should be fine. My goal is to help you understand a) the importance of Vitamin D and b) why you should be taking it year-round vs. just in the winter.

Vitamin D is for more than just your bones! It behaves more like a hormone than a vitamin due to its many different physiological impacts. Most know that it helps with the process of absorbing calcium and getting it to our bones, but that is only one of many important jobs it performs. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should take your Vitamin D levels seriously:

• Your immune system. Vitamin D is essential for a well-functioning immune system. When deficient, it can lead to not only an increase in illnesses but also a higher chance of developing autoimmune disease, where the immune system gets confused and begins to think of “self” as dangerous. Some examples are Hashimoto’s, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis.

• Chronic inflammation. Vitamin D is involved in helping control and decrease inflammation. When uncontrolled, inflammation can lead to a multitude of significant issues, including chronic pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

• DNA methylation. Vitamin D has a critical role in this important process of gene expression. It’s a complicated topic, so to oversimplify, understand that it’s part of how our genes are regulated and expressed. It’s crucial for normal development and, when not functioning properly, can lead to many diseases, including cancer.

• Muscle functioning. Have aches and pains that don’t make sense? Or maybe your muscles feel weaker than they should? It could be related to your Vitamin D levels.

• Hair and nail health. Do your nails and hair seem more brittle and dry than normal? Many minerals and vitamins play a role in the health of your hair and nails, but it can also be related to your Vitamin D levels.

Now that you understand a few of the many reasons why Vitamin D is so important, here’s why, when living in the Pacific NW, you need to take your Vitamin D year-round. We should be able to make Vitamin D via our skin when exposed to the sun. However, in Oregon, our latitude is such that this synthesis does not occur well because of the limited amount of UVB light. This means we can’t depend on our sun exposure to keep our Vitamin D level at a healthy range.

Here are some general recommendations:

• Take Vitamin D with other healthy fats like nuts, avocado or even fish oil. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, so the other fats will help you absorb it better.

• As a fat soluble vitamin, excess Vitamin D is stored in your fat instead of being eliminated, meaning it’s possible to take too much! Often, the sweet spot for most is around 5000 IU’s per day, especially during the winter. I don’t generally recommend going over this amount unless for a short time only. If possible, have your Vitamin D levels checked with the goal of around 50-70 ng/ml of 25-OH Vitamin D.

If you remember nothing else, enjoy your time in the sun and take your Vitamin D!

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