When it comes to getting our nutritional needs met, few appear to be as simple as getting vitamin D. Nicknamed the “Sunshine Vitamin,” a person can get their recommended daily allowance of vitamin D by simply walking outside. What makes this surprising is that an estimated one billion people worldwide are deficient in this critical nutrient.1
The Importance of Vitamin D, & Do You Get Enough?
There are many reasons why people are vitamin D deficient:
Sunscreen. While some sunscreen may help decrease the risk of skin cancer if applied correctly, it can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D by 90%.
Liver disease. Some types of liver disease can decrease the body’s ability to absorb or metabolize vitamin D.
Kidney disease. Kidneys have vitamin D receptors that help to control the calcium and phosphorous levels in the body received from food. Kidney disease can damage these receptors.
Age. As people age, their bodies may be less efficient at producing vitamin D. Studies also indicate older people who stay indoors in the U.S. and Europe have vitamin D deficiency rates ranging from 20% to 100%.2
Obesity. A study in the American Clinical Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes there is a link between obesity, vitamin D insufficiency, and hyperparathyroidism. Researchers believe vitamin D deficiency is due to the vitamin being stored in fatty tissues and not reaching the bloodstream.3
Air pollution. UVB rays are absorbed in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, wood, and other materials.
- A study published in BMC Public health studied 200 women aged 20 to 55, with some living in Tehran (a high polluted area) and others living in Ghazvin (a low polluted area) to see if air pollution could deteriorate the levels of vitamin D in their bodies.Researchers noted that Ghazvinian women had higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies, while Tehranian women had higher levels of secondary hyperparathyroidism. Researchers concluded that living in a highly polluted area played a significant role and could be one of the primary reasons for their vitamin D deficiency.4
- In a French study led by Dr. Nour Baiz, researchers looked for a link between air pollution and infant vitamin D levels. It was discovered that even though French mothers received a 10,000 IU dose of vitamin D to begin their last trimester, 28% of the infants had less than 10 ng/ml and 85% had levels lower than 30 ng/ml. Researchers also noticed that as air pollution increased, the vitamin D levels of the infants decreased proportionately.The authors conclude “The impact of air pollution exposure during the last trimester of gestation is all the more important because maternal supply of vitamin D decline gradually in pregnancy and reaches its lowest level in the third trimester.”5
Geography. UVB sunlight decreases in the winter at higher latitudes because of the low angle of the sun. As a result, vitamin D levels can decrease by 50% in the winter months. Ultraviolet radiation is approximately four times higher at the equator than it is in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Skin Temperature. Warmer skin produces vitamin D more efficiently than cooler skin.
Digestive issues. Crohn’s disease, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease and other issues of the gut can reduce vitamin D absorption. A Penn State study reports that mice with inflammatory bowel disease became sicker if they did not get enough vitamin D. 6
Skin tone. When compared to whites, blacks have lower levels of vitamin D and higher levels of parathyroid hormone, which is considered an indication of vitamin D deficiency.
Lifestyle. Individuals who spend less time outdoors or who keep the majority of their body covered while outside increase their risk of vitamin D deficiency. It should also be noted that windows block UV rays, which prevents a person from absorbing vitamin D.
Diet. Individuals who follow a vegan diet may be vitamin d deficient because most food sources of vitamin D are animal based, such as fish, egg, cheese, milk, beef, and liver.
While there are many possible causes for vitamin D deficiency, studies show it may be a critical factor in many ailments and health issues as well.
The Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is best known for helping the body absorb calcium, which helps to keep bones strong and decrease a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Research indicates that a lack of vitamin D can be hazardous to a person’s health in other ways as well:
Cardiovascular disease. A lack of vitamin D is believed to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease:
- A Framingham Offspring Study notes that the rate of major cardiovascular disease was 53% to 80% higher among those with low vitamin D levels.7
- Research conducted by the American College of Cardiology has concluded that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher presence and severity of coronary artery disease.8
- Monica Verdoia M.D., a cardiologist at eastern Piedmont University in Novara, Italy says, “Present results suggest vitamin D deficiency to be the cause rather than the consequence of atherosclerosis.”8
Asthma. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to asthma attacks:
- Israeli researchers studied 308,000 people of various ages and backgrounds and found that the lower the vitamin D level, the greater incidence and severity of asthma attacks.9
- A study in BioMed Central on 280 adult asthma sufferers over a three year span found that the frequency of vitamin D deficiency was highest in individuals with severe, uncontrolled asthma.10
Cancer. Studies indicate various forms of cancer may be linked to vitamin D deficiency. In a four-year study conducted by Juan Lappe and Robert Heaney on menopausal women, the participants were given enough vitamin D to increase their serum levels to 40 ng/ml. By the end of the study, the women showed a 77% decreased risk of all cancers.11
Breast cancer: Studies show women who have breast cancer tend to have low levels of vitamin D. It is believed vitamin D plays a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and prevent cancerous cells from forming in the breast.12
- Colon cancer. Researchers in the Journal national Cancer Institute studied over 16000 test subjects for 12 years and determined that individuals with levels of vitamin D in their system of 32 ng/ml or higher had a 72% decrease in colon cancer mortality. Another study shows evidence of vitamin D and calcium decreasing a person’s risk of having colon cancer.13
- Prostate cancer. A study published in the journal Clinical Cancer research reported a link between prostate cancer and low blood levels of vitamin D in European-American men and African American men.
Diabetes. A recent study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that 150 test subjects with low levels of vitamin D had an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.14
Hypertension. At the 2013 European Genetic Conference in Paris, France, researchers announced that low levels of vitamin D can trigger hypertension. The data was gathered from 35 studies and 155,000 participants.15
Schizophrenia. A report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism notes that people who are vitamin D deficient are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than those with normal levels of vitamin D.16
Dementia. It is estimated that “moderate to severe” levels of vitamin D deficiency can double the risk for some forms of dementia in older adults, according to a study published in a 2014 study published in the journal Neurology.16
Getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D on a daily basis should be a priority.
Recommended Dosage of Vitamin D
There is much debate on how much vitamin D a person needs. In many studies, the amount of vitamin D has varied depending on several factors, including age, ethnicity, and the ailment being studied or treated. In addition, several organizations recommend higher amounts than others:
As of 2010, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 600 IU for those 1-70 years of age and pregnant or breastfeeding women, and 800 IU for those over 71 years of age. An adequate blood level of vitamin D is 20 nanograms per milliliter, which can be achieved through daily skin exposure to sunlight.17
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends vitamin D 400 IU to 800 IU daily for adults under age 50, and 800 IU to 1000 IU daily for older adults.
The North American Menopause Society recommends 700 IU to 800 IU daily for women at risk of deficiency due to low sun (e.g., homebound, northern latitude) exposure.
Guidelines from the Osteoporosis Society of Canada recommend vitamin D 400 IU per day for people up to age 50, and 800 IU per day for people over 50. Osteoporosis Canada now recommends 400-1000 IU daily for adults under the age of 50 years and 800-2000 IU daily for adults over the age of 50 years.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 IU/day during the fall and winter for adults in Canada. For those with a higher risk of having low vitamin D levels, this dose should be taken year round. This includes people who have dark skin, usually wear clothing that covers most of their skin, and people who are older or who don’t go outside often.
Ways to Get Vitamin D Daily
There are several ways a person can increase their intake of vitamin D:
Sunshine. Going outside and getting twenty to twenty five minutes of sun exposure per day minus sunscreen is ideal. The face and eyes should be protected with a hat and/or sunglasses while other parts of the body should be uncovered for best results.
Food sources. These foods offer vitamin D as well as others that are fortified (limit intake of swordfish and tuna which can contain high levels of mercury):
- Cod Liver Oil — 1 Tbsp. — IU of Vitamin D = 1300 — 340% of the RDA
- Swordfish — 3 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 566 — 142% of the RDA
- Salmon — 3 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 477 — 112% of the RDA
- Canned Tuna in Olive Oil — 3 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 154 — 39% of the RDA
- Fortified Orange Juice — 1 cup — IU of Vitamin D = 137 — 34% of the RDA
- Milk with Vitamin D — 1 cup — IU of Vitamin D = 115 — 29% of the RDA
- Mushrooms — 3 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 100 — 27% of the RDA
- Yogurt with Vitamin D — 6 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 80 — 20% of the RDA
- Cooked Beef Liver — 3 oz. — IU of Vitamin D = 42 — 11% of the RDA
- Eggs (With Yolk) — 1 egg — IU of Vitamin D = 41 — 10% of the RDA
Click here to purchase the fermented cod liver oil I take.
Making a few lifestyle changes will enable a person to get the vitamin D their body’s need.
Lose weight. Vitamin D levels tend to be lower in both obese and inactive individuals. Losing weight can decrease a person’s body fat percentage, which would decrease the amount of vitamin D in held in fat, thus increasing the bioavailability of the vitamin.18
Supplementation. When supplementing vitamin D, make sure it includes vitamin K2. Taking these two vitamins in combination helps to slow down the progression of arterial calcification The vitamin D containing vitamin K2 that I take is called DV3 from Systemic Formulas (get it here).
As important as vitamin D is, it is also important to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Here are several products that provide natural sun protection:
Coconut oil. Coconut oil contains natural SPF properties.
Shea butter. Shea butter protects the skin naturally, which makes it an ideal ingredient for homemade sunscreen recipes.
Sunflower, jojoba, and sesame oils. These oils provide natural sun protection and are easily absorbed into the skin.
Vitamin E. Vitamin E oil moisturizes and nourishes the skin. It also helps to preserve homemade sunscreens.
Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil has a low naturally occurring SPF.
Lavender oil. Lavender oil helps to soothe and repair skin.
Zinc oxide (nano nano). Zinc oxide absorbs UVA and UVB rays and can be used to produce a homemade sunscreen.
Aloe vera. Aloe vera can be used to treat sunburn naturally. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce the redness caused by UV rays.
Sunscreen. As the rates of skin cancer increase, people are urged to apply sunscreen. Unfortunately, the sunscreen diminishes the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D. It’s also believed that some commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that are described as endocrine disruptors that may be toxic. These chemicals are soaked into the skin and make their way to the bloodstream and are believed to interfere with the normal function of estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid.19Homemade sunscreens that nourish and hydrate the skin are viable (and safer) options:
Homemade Sunscreen Recipe I (SPF 20)20
- 10 drops lavender oil
- 1 Tbsp. pomegranate oil
- 3/4 cup coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp. Zinc Oxide
- 2 Tbsp. shea butter
- Glass Jar
- Combine all ingredients except zinc oxide in a jar.
- Place a saucepan with 2 inches of water on stove over medium/low heat.
- Place jar in saucepan and stir contents until ingredients start to melt.
- Once all ingredients are combined, add in zinc oxide and stir well. Store in a cool place.
- Serves 10 people
Homemade Sunscreen Recipe II (SPF 20)21
- 1/2 oz. beeswax granules/pastilles
- 1/4 cup shea butter (2 oz.)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (2 oz.)
- 2 Tbsp. zinc oxide powder (1 oz.)
- Add the oils and then the beeswax to a glass bowl.
- Sit on top of a pot with boiling water, and lower to a simmer.
- Once oils are melted, place glass bowl on towel and add the zinc oxide powder.
- Blend thoroughly with mixer or blender.
- Pour into a mason jar when smooth.
Note: These sunscreens are not waterproof, and should be reapplied hourly.
There are several possible reasons for the high rate of Vitamin D deficiency around the world, but it’s important to understand why getting adequate vitamin D is essential to good health. Additional References:
- Harvard School of Public Health – “Vitamin D and Health”
- OSU – “Vitamin D Deficiency”
- American Society for Clinical Nutrition – “Decreased bioavailability of vitamin D in obesity”
- BioMed Central – “The effects of air pollution on vitamin D status in healthy women: A cross sectional study”
- Vitamin D Council – “Association between air pollution and infant vitamin D levels?”
- WebMD – “Don’t Let Vitamin D Level Dip If You Have Bowel Disease”
- JACC Journals – “Vitamin D and Cardiovascular Disease: Will It Live Up to its Hype?”
- Science Daily – “More severe heart disease found in patients with vitamin D deficiency”
- The New York Times – Low Vitamin D Tied to Asthma Attacks”
- BioMed Central – “Severe and uncontrolled adult asthma is associated with vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency”
- Mercola – “Vitamin D Might Be Able to Slash Your Breast Cancer Risk by 90 Percent”
- Breastcancer.org – “Low Vitamin D Levels”
- Johns Hopkins – “Vitamin D & Colorectal Cancer”
- WebMD – “Vitamin D Levels Linked to Type 2 Diabetes Risk”
- ESHG – “Genetic research clarifies link between hypertension and Vitamin D deficiency”
- Everyday Health – “5 Illnesses Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency”
- Mayo Clinic – “Vitamin D”
- AJCN – “Decreased bioavailability of vitamin D in obesity”
- Dr. Oz – “Your Sunscreen Might Be Poisoning You”
- Dr. Axe – “Homemade Sunscreen”
- Scratch Mommy – “DIY Sunscreen”
- Keeper of the Home – “How to Make Your Own Sunscreen Lotion”
- CHTV Episode 22: Could Your Vitamin D Be Making You Sick?
- Could Your Thyroid Be Why You Are Not Feeling Well?
- Ground Zero: How to Heal Your Leaky Gut
- Cellular Healing Diet: 1-Week Menu Plan
- CHTV Episode 94: Cancer as a Metabolic Disease with Dr. Thomas Seyfried
- Why Your Brain Quits Working
- Air Filtration Systems
- Beyond Organic
- CalMD lq.
- CVO Oil
- C – Colon
- Prostate Supreme
- Green Pasture products
- Skinny and Co. Coconut Oil
- Vitamin E
- Aloe Vera
- Simple Life Mom Natural Sunscreen