It’s almost summer! It’s also the best time to soak up a vitamin essential to our physical and mental wellbeing; vitamin D.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble steroids. The word “soluble” actually means “able to be dissolved.” Whether a vitamin is classified as 'fat-soluble' or 'water-soluble' has to do with how the vitamin is absorbed, stored and removed from the body. As such, Vitamin D is absorbed, stored, and removed from the body via fat cells. The two major forms are vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol, and vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. Keep the latter in mind for later.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Although we call it “Vitamin D”, within mammals (i.e. US), it isn’t actually a vitamin in the traditional sense but rather more of a hormone. This hormone plays a major role in regulating the concentration of calcium and phosphate, and promoting the healthy growth and remodeling of our bones. It is also believed to promote cell growth (read: great skin and hair), facilitate neuromuscular and immune functions, and reduce inflammation (read: bye bye acne).
Vitamin D deficiency can result in Rickets disease in children or softening of the bones and Osteomalacia in adults which causes a similar form of bone softening, bowing of the legs, muscle weakness and fragile bones. Studies have shown that as we age our natural production of Vitamin D decreases. This is why mostly the elderly are diagnosed with osteoporosis or weak bones. The reason for this decrease is unclear. Is it because we progressively have less exposure to the sun as we age or is this a natural decrease that comes with age?
How can we make sure we are getting enough Vitamin D?
We naturally produce Vitamin D, specifically D3 or cholecalciferol when we are exposed to the sun (especially UVB radiation). See, not all UV exposure is bad for you! The National Academy of Medicine, states that 20% of our vitamin D should come from our diet. The Academy’s recommended dietary allowances by age are as follows:
Consider these recommendations to be the bare minimum. Being that everyone’s body is different, some people might need more but that recommendation will come from your doctor if he/she observes signs of osteoporosis.
The remaining 80% should be provided by our skin from UVB exposure to the sun. Now this does not mean go out and bake in the sun! You still have to consider skin cancer. So, what do you do?
First, you adopt the mantra “all things in moderation”. Second, review the list of Vitamin D rich foods and begin incorporating more of them into your diet.
If you are vegan/vegetarian, instead of focusing solely on Vitamin D rich foods (being that most of them are meat or meat by products), we would suggest focusing on a calcium rich diet. If you recall from above, we said that the purpose of Vitamin D is to facilitate the absorption of calcium (and other things). Below are foods rich in calcium. Also, don’t forgot, you will get most of your Vitamin D naturally from the sun!
If you suspect or are told by a physician that you are Vitamin D deficient you can also start taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Lastly, go outside and get some sun!
According to the NIH, 5 – 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is usually enough to help boost vitamin D intake. Note that they don’t say bake until you burn for 5 days straight. Remember, skin cancer!
The “Sunshine Vitamin”!
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is derived from sun exposure and there is a suspected link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Some scientist even suspect that high rates of depression in persons of color can partially be attributed to high levels of melanin in the skin, that blocks UVB radiation and reducing the production of Vitamin D. There haven’t been enough studies to confirm these claims.
Major depression is linked to serotonin deficiency, dopamine/noradrenaline deficiency, Omega-3 deficiency, and many other dietary linked deficiencies (as well as environmental causes). Now, vitamin D deficiency has been added to that list of suspects. While we may never have a definitive cause for Major Depression, one thing that is certain is that a balanced diet and spending some time in the sun definitely doesn’t hurt. For example, if you outside playing a game with your friends, not only are you increasing your Vitamin D intake, you are boosting endorphins which have been linked to mood. Lastly, you can think of it this way, if one day scientist find that the link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression was total nonsense, at least you will have great skin and hair from your improved diet and exercise!
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. The information above is not intended to supplant medical advice. If you believe that you are suffering from depression or another form of mental illness please discuss it with your doctor.
Free Hotline Numbers:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663