You may think that if you pop a daily multivitamin you’ve got your vitamin needs covered. Think again. Vitamin D, an essential vitamin and well-known for it’s role in strong bones, is continuously being linked to more vital life functions. Yet nearly a whopping 70 percent of Caucasians, 90 percent of Hispanics and 97 percent of African Americans have been reported to have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D.
That’s bad news considering obtaining usable sources of vitamin D is harder than you might think. Vitamin D, though called a “vitamin” actually works more like a hormone. While other vitamins can easily be consumed via the food we eat, vitamin D is a bit trickier.
The skin is actually responsible for making vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. It can also be obtained via supplements and food sources as well, but those options are limited to fatty fish, certain mushroom species and smaller amounts in beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. Most Americans receive vitamin D via fortified milk and cereal products, which is unfortunate since these highly processed products often come with other unhealthy additives.
When vitamin D is made in the skin after being exposed to sunlight, it goes directly to your bloodstream and winds up in the liver and kidneys were it is made active and converted to the hormone Calcitriol. From there it can literally interact with every cell in the human body. Six percent of the human genome or up to 2,000 different genes can be affected by this activated form of vitamin D. In fact, every cell and tissue in the human body has been found to have vitamin D receptors, which makes it important for more than just strong bones.
It’s long been proven that vitamin D is necessary for calcium and magnesium to be absorbed properly. But scientists are now discovering that proper immune function, muscle function, brain development, cardio vascular health and more are directly impacted by adequate sources of vitamin D.
This vital vitamin may also have anti-cancer properties. In a Recent study, stage IV prostate cancer patients with adequate levels of vitamin D had an improved survival rate compared to those with inadequate levels. And more findings suggest that vitamin D can aid in a decreased risk for Diabetes and various autoimmune diseases.
Yet, even though we know of the importance of vitamin D, so many Americans are still deficient. One of the main culprits is the avoidance of sun exposure, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D levels. Most people work indoors during the daylight hours and in certain colder regions the skin is constantly kept concealed. And older individuals, the exact ones who require even higher levels of vitamin D, rarely go outside as they age.
The obesity epidemic is also responsible for directly affecting vitamin D deficiency levels in many Americans. Research has found a link between overweight and obese individuals and lower vitamin D blood levels. One theory is that the vitamin is being withheld in the excess fatty tissue and unable to make it through to the liver and kidneys to be activated, yet more research is needed to understand the exact reasons.
To ensure that you’re vitamin D levels are adequate, follow these guidelines:
- Have your levels checked by a physician.
- Do not rely on food alone for adequate supply.
- Allow for a modest amount (15-30 minutes) of sun exposure two to four days a week, avoiding peak sun hours.
- When possible, get shorter quick exposures to sunlight rather than longer less frequent exposures.
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