Vitamin D: How it Helps and How to Get More

Vitamin D is an essential ingredient in our lives. Adequate amounts of vitamin D promote calcium and phosphorus absorption—essential mechanisms for healthy bones and teeth—and is also considered by organizations such as the National Cancer Institute as a nutrient with potential to ward off serious diseases.

Unfortunately, like many of the best things in life, we simply don’t get enough vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D, and Where’s it Hiding?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone naturally present in some, but not many, foods, including certain fish, fish liver oils, eggs, and fortified dairy and grains (products that have extra amounts of calcium added in the manufacturing process). The body’s main source of vitamin D is the sun: vitamin D is produced by the body in response to exposing skin to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight.

As a bonus, sunshine and vitamin D encourage the release of endorphins—the body’s feel-good hormone, effective at reducing anxiety and depression.

Am I Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Low levels of vitamin D are bad for people of all ages, but for the very young and the elderly, an inadequate amount of the sunshine vitamin (as those hip kids are callin’ it nowadays) can be especially harmful. Bone pain and muscle weakness may signal low levels of vitamin D, but for most people, the symptoms are far more subtle.

The only way to know for sure whether you’re getting enough vitamin D is by blood testing. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be high time to schedule an blood test.

  • Fatigue
  • General muscle pain/weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Restless sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Headaches
  • Bladder problems
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to certain health conditions:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Cognitive impairment in older adults
  • Bone softening diseases
  • Asthma in children
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

Alright, Time to Get More Vitamin D!

It’s not possible to get the right amount of vitamin D your body needs from food, so you’ll have to venture elsewhere.

The two main sources of vitamin D are vitamin D suppliments (just visit the massive wall of vitamins at your local pharmacy) and by exposing bare skin to sunlight.

The most natural and convenient way to get vitamin D is the sun. The amount of vitamin D produced by sunlight depends on time of day, geographic location, and skin pigment.

Your body is efficient: it doesn’t require eight hours of sunbathing to get the nutrients it needs, so limit your exposure. The more skin you expose, the more vitamin D is sponged up. Remember to always use sunscreen! Going without sunscreen won’t increase the amount of vitamin D you absorb, and can lead to other health issues.

If you can’t get enough sunlight, or are worried about the sun’s impact on your skin, vitamin D3 supplements are thought to be the best supplements to take. Vitamin D supplements may also be necessary for older people or people living in northern latitudes with limited sun exposure.

Oh, and a parting reminder, for the benefit of us all: when it comes to the whole “exposing bare skin” thing, situational awareness is key. There’s a time and a place, iffya know what I mean.

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