Summer may have the most sun, but its heat can drive us indoors where we become vitamin D3 deficient. See how this affects us.
Vitamin D has largely been ignored in nutritional circles since it was added to foods, mainly milk, in the 1930s. Scientists of that time had recently discovered this vitamin and knew it played a role in bone health. Fortification of foods is still a very controversial subject, but there is little doubt that the discovery of vitamin D helped eliminate rickets throughout the United States. Rickets is a devastating softening of the bones that comes from vitamin D deficiency.
For many years we believed that vitamin D did little else and our needs were fairly low. We’re discovering that vitamin D plays a much bigger role than we assumed and, even with the fortification mania, people aren’t getting all they need.
What is Vitamin D?
Vegans, vegetarians, and those with lactose intolerances or milk allergies aren’t the only ones at risk. About one in three of us in the U.S. has low vitamin D levels. This number rises sharply during the winter months to over 50%. These numbers are also based on the daily recommendations that may not be enough now that we know vitamin D is much more than a front against rickets. Our vitamin D plummets as we spend more time indoors. Sunscreen, our recent fear of the sun, televisions, game consoles, air conditioning, computers, and our modern sedentary lifestyle are all destroying our ability to make vitamin D, and we are suffering for it.
Interestingly enough, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all. We can produce all we need with just 10–15 minutes of sunshine each day. Those with darker skin or who are much farther from the equator should double that. This is enough time to produce much more than the daily recommended dose without risking any damage to your skin. Turns out the vitamin D produced in this time frame also helps protects the skin against solar damage, keeping it younger and healthier.
What else does Vitamin D do?
It does much more than just aid in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for strong bones. Vitamin D has been linked in a multitude of studies to lower blood pressure, healthy mood, diabetes prevention, a strong immune system, mental acuity, multiple sclerosis preventions, healthy weight loss, and even cancer prevention. It reduces stress, reduces pain, improves skin health and appearance, and strengthens blood vessels. Vitamin D can also help alleviate asthma, arthritis, and hair loss.
Where to Get it
Despite the fact we can get plenty from the sun, not all of us can manage to spend the time outdoors we really should. This is truer for those of us who live far from the equator. Supplements are available, but you should know where those supplements come from and what form of vitamin D you are getting. The two forms that have nutritional value are vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is what forms in your skin with exposure to sunlight. It is more bioactive, more absorbable, and less toxic in high doses. D2 is found in many plant-foods, especially mushrooms. D2 is converted into usable vitamin D by the body, but it is less absorbable and less active.
Vitamin D3 isn’t in many foods though, mainly fatty fish, egg yolks, and cheese. These aren’t the friendliest of sources for vegans and can have other downsides like the many toxins and heavy metals found in fish as of late. There is one source for vegan D3 though that avoids toxins and allergens: lichen. Lichens are a unique type of plant that is actually a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae. Lichen grows throughout the world and need to protect themselves from the sun as well, producing vitamin D in its best form. They provide a pure, clean vitamin D3 free from contaminants. A supplement of vitamin D is a good idea for most of us, but you should be looking for one that contains vitamin D3 from lichen if possible. Vitamin D2 will work, but vitamin D3 is so much better, being exactly what we produce ourselves.