Most people know that Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin”, helps form strong bones. But healthy lifestyles that involve sunshine and having adequate amounts of vitamin D are associated with many other potential health benefits, including reducing the risk of falls, certain cancers, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions.
Unfortunately, modern Western lifestyles - which involve a lot of sitting indoors - increase the risk for having insufficient amounts of Vitamin D. Other factors which increase the risk of having suboptimal Vitamin D levels include:
- Older age
- Being overweight or obese
- Living in cold climates in the Northern hemisphere
- Having darker skin (which lowers the absorption of ultraviolet light needed for vitamin D production in the skin)
- Having gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis (which lower absorption of vitamin D into the blood from the intestines)
In most cases, mild Vitamin D insufficiency is “subclinical”, meaning that there are no associated symptoms. Some people may experience subtle signs, such as muscle weakness or fatigue.
Vitamin D is best obtained from exposing at least 40% of your skin to the sun daily for about 15-40 minutes daily, depending on skin pigmentation. Note that sunscreen should be worn after this period to avoid increasing the risk of skin cancer. Additional ways to obtain Vitamin D include:
- Taking a daily supplement (dosage to be determined by your doctor)
- Fortified milk and non-dairy products
- Fatty fish and egg yolks
Note that although you cannot get “too much” vitamin D from the sun, you can obtain excessive levels through supplements. Therefore, it’s very important to discuss your vitamin D supplementation with your physician and ensure you are taking the proper amount.
Should you get a vitamin D blood test? Most healthy people who do not have the risk factors listed above do not need “regular” screening of Vitamin D (insurance typically will not cover this test), and can simply focus on practicing the healthy nutrition and sunshine practices above to ensure they get enough Vitamin D. However, if you belong to one of the higher-risk groups described above, talk to your doctor about whether a screening test is appropriate for you.
As always, we are here to help answer any questions you have regarding nutrition and lifestyle. Our goal is to work with you to ensure that you are getting the right levels of all the nutrients and vitamins needed for a healthy, long, and happy life.