Over the past few weeks Vitamin D has gained quite a bit of attention…well at least as much attention as a vitamin can gain in our dizzying reality!
In the political world, we were told that the president was put on vitamin D after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Dr. Fauci also shared a few weeks ago that he personally takes Vitamin D as preventative immune support. I don’t know for sure, but the Kardashians are probably taking it too.
In the nutrition world there have also been a lot of recent studies that are starting to support some of the anecdotal and hypotheses about Vitamin D and COVID-19.
While all of that might be interesting, the important part is to really understand what Vitamin D is so we can see how this relates to you and your family.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is produced in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight or through certain foods. Vitamin D plays a lot of roles but it is usually associated with calcium & phosphorous absorption (i.e. bone health) and immune function. Although low levels of vitamin D is also linked to weight loss resistance, depression and anxiety.
There are two main types, D2 and D3. D2 is made by plants and D3 is made by animals.
They are not equal when it comes to raising your blood levels of vitamin D (which is the goal). D2 does not convert as well by the liver so it has much less of an impact on your blood levels. It is, however, much cheaper so when you see food that is fortified with vitamin D it is most likely in this form.
Ideally, you want to choose food and supplements that are made from D3. Although, if you are vegan I have a great supplement recommendation below!
What are Food Sources of Vitamin D?
Here are some common sources of D3:
- Salmon (wild has ~4 x the D3 as farmed)
- Canned Tuna
- Egg Yolk
- Mushrooms (grown wild or under a UV light)
How does Vitamin D help your Immune System?
It is a common phrase to say “boost” your immune system – yes, by me too as shown here, here and here. However, the real goal is the find the sweet spot for your immune response. This means that both an underactive and overactive immune system can cause problems.
In the case of COVID-19 some of the most damaging impact is caused by something called a cytokine storm (that name…as if 2020 wasn’t terrifying enough!), which is an overactive immune response. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune response, increasing and reigning in as needed.
Who is at Risk of Low Vitamin D?
Approximately 42% of Americans are deficient with an even higher rate in the Black (82%) and Hispanic (69%) communities due to the amount of melatonin found in darker skin.
Vitamin D levels also tend to go down in the winter months because there is much less sunlight and we aren’t eating most of the foods that are higher in D3. This is an important factor when it comes to a decrease in immunity in the winter.
Here are some other risk factors:
- Those who do not get outside for a minimum of 15 minutes per day, without sun protection (I fall into this category because I wear sunblock everyday)
- Living further from the equator where there is less sunlight
- Being overweight – this is due to malabsorption and potential inactivity
- Over the age of 70 – this is due to a decreased amount of vitamin D production in the skin as we age
- Compromised digestion – again due to malabsorption
What do you do with this information?
If you feel comfortable and are not a white as snow (like me), shoot to get outside in the sun for ~15 minutes per day. Skin exposure is key so the more of your body that is absorbing sunlight the better. Please be respectful of your neighbors😉
Add in dietary sources of Vitamin D such as egg yolks and fatty fish a few times per week.
I also find that unless you are spending a lot of time in the sun, most people can benefit from supplementing with Vitamin D in the winter months.
If you have very low levels of Vitamin D, your doctor will most likely have you on a therapeutic dose (around 10,000-40,000IU). Please follow their guidelines and make sure to stay consistent with your follow-ups.
For most people, supplementing around 2,000-4,000IU’s in the winter months is a safe spot. I really like this brand because it is in a dropper so you can control the dose (please note that a single drop is a dose…not a dropper full!). If you prefer a vegan version, this is a fantastic brand (always look for D3 sourced from lichen.)
As with everything, check with your doctor and stay consistent with your lab-work. And if you want expert advice on your personal needs sign up for an initial consultation. I will give you personalized advice on both your diet and supplements!