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Vitamin D Deficiency? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

What is Vitamin D Deficiency?
Photo by Fleur Kaan on Unsplash

What is Vitamin D Deficiency?

Ever been told by your healthcare provider that you have vitamin D deficiency? You’d be in good company: 41.6% of the U.S. population has a vitamin D deficiency.

Your next question might be: how can I get more? Is sunshine enough? How does vitamin D work and why is it important?

Or maybe you’re wondering how optimizing your vitamin D levels can help with specific health symptoms or conditions, like hormonal fluctuations, insulin resistance, or weight loss.

These are all questions that we’ll explore in this post. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and is a critical component of keeping your body functioning optimally, so it’s worth reading on to discover how to overcome vitamin D deficiency and give your body what it needs to be healthy!

Vitamin D is different from other vitamins

Because vitamin D is unique in many ways relative to other vitamins, it’s really in a category of its own.

Here are a few ways that vitamin D distinguishes itself from other vitamins:

  • It functions more like a hormone. Once it’s in your system, it converts in the liver and kidneys to its active form, calcitriol. Then it acts on various cells and organs, binding to specific receptors and influencing numerous bodily functions. Vitamin D receptors (VDRs) are present in almost every cell of the body! This is an indication of its extensive role in helping your body function at its best.
  • You can synthesize it through sunlight. While other vitamins must be obtained through diet, vitamin D can be synthesized by the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet B light from the sun. This means that your natural vitamin D levels will vary depending on geographic location, season, time of day, skin pigmentation, and sunscreen use (and people who have darker skin and more melanin won’t get the same benefits, given their natural protection from the sun’s rays).
  • It’s found naturally in very few foods. Unlike most vitamins, which are widely available in a variety of plant and animal foods, vitamin D can only be found in a few types of food, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines), beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Due to this natural limitation, many countries fortify foods such as milk, orange juice, and cereals with vitamin D to address deficiencies in the population.

Spoiler: While you may be getting some vitamin D through sunlight or fortified foods, you’ll get best results by taking supplemental vitamin D.

But before we get to the solutions, let’s look at why it’s so important to get enough vitamin D. What does it do for our holistic health?

Why our bodies need vitamin D

To get you inspired, here are some of the most important ways that vitamin D helps your body:

  1. Bone Health: Vitamin D is probably most widely associated with bone health. Because vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut, it leads to healthy bones and teeth. A severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
  2. Immune Function: Vitamin D is also an essential component of a functioning immune system. It helps enhance the ability of white blood cells to fight pathogens in your system. It also decreases inflammation! This makes vitamin D a key player in fighting infections and boosting overall immunity.
  3. Muscle function: Sufficient vitamin D levels are necessary for healthy muscle function, and a deficiency can lead to muscle weakness and an increased risk of falls, particularly for older adults.
  4. Cardiovascular health: Vitamin D may have a role in heart health. Researchers are investigating whether it helps regulate blood pressure and improves the function of the cardiovascular system, as many believe it does.
  5. Mental health: In case you thought vitamin D was only beneficial to your physical health, guess what? You have vitamin D receptors in your brain—and growing evidence points to low levels of vitamin D contributing to mood disorders and depression. It may be linked to the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Clearly, vitamin D is essential to your holistic health! Now: how do you get enough of it into your system? 

Before looking at sources of vitamin D, we need to consider cofactors.

What are cofactors and how do they relate to getting enough vitamin D?

Cofactors are nutrients or compounds that help vitamin D do its job. Without them, vitamin D may not be properly metabolized.

Before considering possible sources of vitamin D, you need to consider getting adequate levels of vitamin D’s cofactors so that your body has assembled a team to welcome vitamin D and do its job.

Consider these cofactors:

  • Magnesium is found in foods like leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds), whole grains, and legumes. 
  • Vitamin K2 is in fermented foods, dairy products, and meats.
  • Zinc can be found in meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, and whole grains.
  • Boron is found in foods like fruits (especially apples, pears, and grapes), vegetables (such as broccoli), nuts, and legumes.

By eating a variety of foods, you’ll help ensure that your body is maintaining adequate levels of these vitamin D cofactors, helping you maintain adequate levels of vitamin D as well.

If you have dietary restrictions that prevent you from keeping all of your levels optimal through diet, your healthcare provider can help you determine if you need to take supplements. Have your blood tested regularly, and work with a professional to interpret your results and determine a plan.

How to get enough vitamin D

Now, with your cofactors in place, it’s time to get your D!

There are three main ways to get vitamin D and regular blood testing can let you know whether you’re getting enough:

  1. Sunlight exposure: Depending on your skin’s pigmentation, exposing your skin to UVB rays from the mid-day sun for 10-30 minutes several times a week could be a natural source of natural vitamin D, especially if you are lighter-skinned. If you have darker skin, that means you have more melanin to absorb UVB radiation—helpful in terms of protecting you from the harmful effects of the sun, but leaving less radiation to be converted to vitamin D. Other factors that determine how much vitamin D you can get from the sun include your geographic location (angle and intensity of the sun’s rays), the change of seasons, and lifestyle. Evaluate these factors for yourself to figure out whether sunlight exposure is a way for you to help maintain vitamin D levels over time. 
    (Note: You still need to be mindful not to overexpose or damage your skin. If you’re very sensitive to sunlight, read on to find out how to get your vitamin D from other sources!)
  2. Dietary sources: While there are few foods that contain natural vitamin D, you still have the option to work these into your diet. They include salmon, mackerel, sardines, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk, orange juice, and cereals.
  3. Supplements: Vitamin D supplements are a reliable way to ensure that you’re maintaining high enough levels of vitamin D, especially if you already have a known deficiency. They come in two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). vitamin D3 is more effective at raising blood levels and is generally preferred. The recommended daily allowance varies by age, sex, and life stage—but, for average adults without significant deficiencies, 600-800 IU per day is a common recommendation. 
    (Note: The “normal range” may not be optimal for every patient–and that’s why having a professional team to make recommendations for you is so important.)

How optimizing vitamin D can help with specific health challenges

While getting your vitamin D optimized helps across virtually everything your body does, we frequently work with clients who are trying to regulate their hormones, deal with insulin resistance, or lose weight.

Here’s how vitamin D can help:

  • Hormonal balance: Vitamin D influences the endocrine system, which helps maintain an optimal level of calcium in the blood, essential for the proper functioning of numerous hormonal processes. Since vitamin D receptors are present in many endocrine glands, it’s believed that they may have broader hormonal effects, such as on the thyroid and adrenal glands.
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells in the body become less responsive to insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Vitamin D helps improve insulin sensitivity by influencing the function of pancreatic beta cells and modulating the inflammatory response that contributes to insulin resistance.
  • Weight loss: Vitamin D regulates fat cells and may help reduce the formation of new fat cells. It also influences the release of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that signals the brain to regulate appetite and energy balance. By enhancing leptin sensitivity, vitamin D can promote satiety and reduce overall calorie intake.

In conclusion: be sure to get your Vitamin D!

Clearly, vitamin D levels have an extensive effect on our overall health, from bone strength to immunity and hormonal function, muscle performance, and mental well-being. When we’re taking optimal care of our holistic health, all of this adds up to increased longevity.

At Synergy Integrative Health & Wellness, we’re here to help with anything that influences your holistic health to the extent that vitamin D does!

We’ll help you obtain and interpret your bloodwork results to determine your levels and how to overcome a vitamin D deficiency if necessary. Whether you’re working with us in the context of weight management, nutritional counseling, health coaching, support with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, mental health medication management, or our newest service, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)–your vitamin D levels will be part of the equation. 

If you’re interested in ordering vitamin D supplements, click here.

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