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Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin.  The vitamin that has gotten so much attention for its need and benefit; and with good reason!  The more we discover the benefits of vitamin D, the more we realize that we need to spend more time in the sun.  But what if we live in the Northern hemisphere, where days are shorter? And how can we ensure that we have enough vitamin D to stay healthy?

Let’s explore this beneficial nutrient.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has both the properties of a vitamin and a hormone.  Being a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs to be eaten with a healthy fat to be properly metabolized by the body.

Vitamin D is essential in the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorous.  You’ve probably already heard how important it is in keeping your bones healthy. This also makes it a key player in the development and growth of children, making their bones and teeth strong.  

But there is so much more than vitamin D can do for your body!  

  • Vitamin D protects against muscle weakness and ensures the proper regulation of heartbeats.  The muscular enhancement also prevents older adults from falling, something that one in three elderly people struggle to avoid.  Strong muscles help support your skeleton and optimal levels of vitamin D can also ensure that you don’t get those weird muscle spasms and cramps.  Why? By ensuring that your muscles are absorbing their minerals. This can also help reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
  • Vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis, breast and colon cancer, and osteoarthritis. It enhances immunity and is necessary for thyroid function and normal blood clotting.
  • Studies are showing that people who are deficient in vitamin D are more at risk of blurry eyesight and that bringing your vitamin D levels up to optimal can reduce your risk of macular degeneration.
  • Its anti-inflammatory effect can lessen your headaches and migraines.
  • For women, it can slow down the creation of uterine fibroids. 

As mentioned, we think of vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin.  However, there are several forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 does, in fact, come from our skin’s ability to synthesize the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  Which means, if we’re blocking the sun’s rays with an SPF of 8 or higher – we’re lessening our exposure and potential of making vitamin D3. When the skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, a cholesterol compound in the skin is transformed into a precursor of vitamin D.  Exposing your face and arms to the sun for fifteen minutes, three times weekly, is an effective way to ensure adequate amounts of vitamin D3. Research has shown that people living north of the upper third of the United States cannot produce enough vitamin D from their limited exposure to the sun during the winter months.

So what can you do if you don’t get enough sunshine? There is another way of ensuring your optimum levels of vitamin D, and that comes from food sources in the form of vitamin D2.  When activated by the liver and kidneys, this source of vitamin D is easily absorbable by the body.

Easy to eat food sources of vitamin D

The best sources are from fatty saltwater fish. Fish such as mackerel, cod, halibut, salmon, and sardines are excellent choices for vitamin D intake.   Eggs, especially egg yolks, are also high in vitamin D. You can find this beneficial nutrient in butter, cod liver oil, dandelion greens, liver, shiitake mushrooms, oatmeal, oysters, and sweet potatoes.  There are even some herbs that are high in vitamin D! Adding alfalfa, nettle, and parsley to your diet can increase your vitamin D intake.

Now that you know the various benefits and ways that you can get more vitamin D into your body, what are optimal levels?  The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 600 IU of vitamin D a day, but recent research suggests those guidelines are way too low.  Even with this intake, about 42% of American adults seem to be vitamin D deficient. Many nutritionists recommend between 4,000 to 7,000 IU as a safe way to truly reap the vitamin’s biggest benefits.  Supplementation may be necessary to ensure that you are intaking enough vitamin D. It’s also important to note that intestinal disorders, along with liver and gallbladder malfunctions, interfere with the absorption of vitamin D.  Some cholesterol-lowering drugs may also interfere with absorption.

A quick recap on how to increase your vitamin D levels:

1 – Enjoy 15 minutes of sunshine three or more times weekly.  Sunscreen of SPF 8 or higher will limit your ability to absorb the ultraviolet rays needed for your body to create vitamin D.  In fact, if you are fair-skinned, 10 mins in the sun will allow the body to create up to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D.

2 – Increase your vitamin D foods.  A 4 oz serving of salmon will provide you with over 600 IUs.  Add some dandelion greens and you’re onto something good. Here’s a great recipe you can try: DANDELION SALMON SALAD

3 – During the winter months, you may need to supplement vitamin D3 – the active form of vitamin D.

4 – Keep your liver healthy to convert the necessary cholesterol and vitamin D2 in your body.  Eating dark leafy greens and parsley is a great start!

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