Everything we need to thrive in our lives comes from nature, the universe, and each other. One example of the vital role nature plays in our lives is how important sunshine is to our health. From our bones and skin to our immune systems and sex drives, the vitamin D we get from sunlight exposure is required for a healthy body. About 10% comes from food, and about 90% comes from being in sunlight.
So what exactly is Vitamin D? What does it do in our bodies and how much vitamin D do you need? I’m going to dive into everything you need to know, including the specific benefits of vitamin D, how much you need per day, and where to get vitamin D.
What Is Vitamin D and What Does It Do?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble steroid hormones primarily produced in the skin in response to UVB radiation from sunlight. When the UVB rays hit your skin, they interact with 7-Dehydrocholesterol that converts it into Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is not a usable form for our bodies, however.
Your liver has to convert that D3 into a new compound 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Then, once it goes through your bloodstream and into your kidneys, a healthy kidney will convert it into calcitriol. Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D that your body needs. It is especially important for calcium absorption, treating bone disease, and hyperparathyroidism.
Do you see how important healthy kidney and liver function are to getting the Vitamin D benefits your body needs? Make sure you’re getting enough water daily and eating a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet to keep these two organs functioning optimally.
The Effects and Benefits of Taking Vitamin D
Vitamin D has several positive effects on our bodies. New studies show just how important it is for multiple aspects of our health.
Vitamin D and Bone Health
For a long time, the biggest known effect of vitamin D was helping prevent osteoporosis and other bone-deterioration diseases. The key is the calcitriol, which is required to absorb calcium from the food in your stomach. Getting enough calcitriol is important throughout your whole life, from formative years to old age.
The Effect of Vitamin D on Cancer
Every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors, so it’s a powerful ingredient in monitoring cellular health. When cells malfunction, vitamin D orders them to return to healthy, replicating functionality. If the cell does not properly receive that information, the vitamin D tells the cell to destroy itself. Malfunctioning cells that do not destroy themselves can become cancerous.
If we’re deficient in vitamin D, we hinder this process. Vitamin D has a protective effect of lowering cancer risks, according to a 2006 paper, and is even a form of treatment for all kinds of cancers, from breast cancer to colon cancer.
Vitamin D and the Immune System
Vitamin D helps subdue an overly reactive immune system. A 2012 paper explained how vitamin D can help improve immune cells in autoimmune diseases, specifically by controlling infections and reducing inflammation. The author even suggests that supplemental vitamin D could have significant benefits for people suffering from autoimmune disease.
Vitamin D May Benefit Sexual Health
Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to erectile dysfunction, orgasmic function, and sexual desire. A 2018 study demonstrated that low vitamin D can lead male sexual malfunction and that the severity of sexual dysfunction correlates with how low the vitamin D levels are.
Vitamin D Deficiency Can Lead to a Wide Range of Diseases
A 2010 study on vitamin D showed that deficiency increases susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, type-1 diabetes, diseases associated with the nervous system, and dementia. It was found that Vitamin D is an epigenetic controller, meaning it influences several hundred genes in our body. Many of these genes control disease expression and suppression. Vitamin D also decides which proteins are being made from our genetic code.
The Recommended Daily Dose of Vitamin D
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends between 600-800 IUs (International Unites) of vitamin D daily for most people. Babies should only have 400.
Six to eight hundred IUs is the standard recommendation, but the amount of vitamin D you need depends on several factors of your lifestyle.
These factors are:
- Your latitude: Those living above the 37-degree latitude line have a harder time getting sun exposure. Thirty-seven degree latitude cuts across the middle of the U.S., not far from St. Louis, Missouri, so if you live north of this line, you may require extra vitamin D.
- Age: Older people require more daily IUs of vitamin D. One study also suggests that post-menopausal women may require more IUs of vitamin D per day to reach sufficient blood levels.
- Skin type: People with skin that contains more melanin don’t absorb vitamin D from sun exposure as easily.
- Season: Getting vitamin D from sunlight is easier in summer than in winter. Also, it’s recommended to take extra vitamin D in flu season and in winter.
- Weight: A few studies suggest that overweight people may require more vitamin D.
How to Get Vitamin D
You absorb vitamin D through sunlight and with certain foods you eat. If you don’t get enough vitamin D through these sources, then you may need to take supplements. In the spring and summer, you can get an adequate amount of vitamin D if you’re spending at least 30 minutes in the sun without sunscreen.
You can also try some of the following foods to absorb more vitamin D:
- Milk in the U.S. (including plant-based milk) is usually fortified with about 120 IUs per cup
- Breakfast cereals
- Orange juice
- Fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
As you can see from this list, getting vitamin D through food is difficult to do if you’re vegan. My Vitamin D supplements, High D3 and Ultimate D are high-quality supplements that are safe for vegan diets. Other plant-based food sources are wild mushrooms and lichens.
Skin Type Affects Vitamin D Absorption
Skin type is a big factor in your body’s ability to convert UVB rays into usable Vitamin D. The more melanin and thus, darker pigment that you have, the less UVB radiation is able to reach the epidermis.
There is concern about sunlight being bad for you and causing skin cancer, which is valid. But you shouldn’t flat-out avoid the sun because if you’re not getting those UVB rays, you’re not getting adequate Vitamin D intake. Also, keep in mind that about one quarter of all sunscreens available on the market contain the carcinogen benzene, so choose a safe sunscreen that doesn’t include this ingredient for when you go out in the sun.
Should You Take Vitamin D Supplements?
It’s only recommended to take vitamin D supplements if you don’t get enough from natural sources like sunlight and the food you eat. I suggest taking a supplement if you’re vegan, as it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from vegan food sources. Try speaking with your physician first, to see if it’s needed with your lifestyle.
Vitamin D has numerous health benefits for our bodies and deficiency can lead to some nasty health effects as well. Make a conscious effort to get outside and get 30 minutes of sun, or be more intentional about vitamin-D fortified foods. It will do wonders for your health!
XO – Serena