Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D Are You Getting Enough Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D seems to be getting some positive publicity lately, but the tide of public opinion is yet to shift on the importance of sunlight in this equation. While scientists debate the topic, perhaps a conclusion can be reached with some good old-fashioned logic.

A quick stroll around any Walgreens shows the trend these days to lather sunscreen each day to protect against damage from the sun. Sunscreen under your make-up, sunscreen in your make-up, sunscreen for baby, sunscreen for those who are sweating, sunscreen with added tanner, the list goes on. This would all be well and good, except it isn’t working! Our overuse of sunscreen hasn’t stopped skin cancer at all, it is actually increasing! On top of that, people are getting the most dangerous types of skin cancer in places the sun never even touches. Something here just doesn’t add up…

First, let’s break down what role the sun plays in our biochemistry, and why it is important in the first place.

Organisms like plants and algae use sunlight for photosynthesis to create oxygen and other important by-products. Sunlight doesn’t work quite the same way for us, but is still just as important. When we are exposed to ultraviolet B light from the sun or artificial sources, vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol is created photochemically in our skin. Food sources like fatty fish, eggs, and meat also provide D3. However, once Vitamin D enters the body, it is then transported through the bloodstream to the liver where it is converted into the prohormone calcidiol. Calcidiol is then converted by the kidneys or organisms in the immune system into calationol. Calatinol circulates as a hormone and regulates mineral concentration in the blood (including calcium), function of the neuromuscular and immune systems and gene proliferation (this is the reason for the link between Vitamin D deficiency and cancers).

Or put more technically (courtesy of wikipedia):

“Following the final converting step in the kidney, calcitriol (the physiologically active form of vitamin D) is released into the circulation. By binding to vitamin D-binding protein (VDBP), a carrier protein in the plasma, calcitriol is transported to various target organs.[8]

Calcitriol mediates its biological effects by binding to the vitamin D receptor (VDR), which is principally located in the nuclei of target cells.[8] The binding of calcitriol to the VDR allows the VDR to act as a transcription factor that modulates the gene expression of transport proteins (such as TRPV6 and calbindin), which are involved in calcium absorption in the intestine.

The vitamin D receptor belongs to the nuclear receptor superfamily of steroid/thyroid hormone receptors, and VDRs are expressed by cells in most organs, including the brain, heart, skin, gonads, prostate, and breast. VDR activation in the intestine, bone, kidney, and parathyroid gland cells leads to the maintenance of calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood (with the assistance of parathyroid hormone and calcitonin) and to the maintenance of bone content.[23]

The VDR is known to be involved in cell proliferation and differentiation. Vitamin D also affects the immune system, and VDRs are expressed in several white blood cells, including monocytes and activated T and B cells.[24]

Apart from VDR activation, various alternative mechanisms of action are known. An important one of these is its role as a natural inhibitor of signal transduction by hedgehog (a hormone involved in morphogenesis).[25][26]”

So what does this mean for us? In humans, Vitamin D is much more than just a simple vitamin that we need to hit a target RDA of. Vitamin D is a hormonal precursor and science is constantly linking deficiency of Vitamin D to increased incidence of many diseases. Ironically, while Vitamin D is readily available (at least part of the year in most parts of the world) for free if produced from sun exposure, people are surprisingly deficient in it these days.

Vitamin D3 can be obtained by adequate sun exposure or by oral supplementation, but which is better? For years and years (basically all of human history until the last few hundred years) vitamin D was obtained from the sun in varied amounts based on proximity to the equator. Obtaining Vitamin D from food wasn’t really a feasible option, since most foods didn’t have any mentionable level of Vitamin D.

People who got the most sun exposure because they lived in hot areas of the world developed excess melanin (a darker skin pigment) to block burning while lighter skinned people could produce Vitamin D (and a sunburn) a lot more quickly. This system worked really well when in the time when people lived in the same basic area their whole lives, but now a light-skinned person like me could go live in Ecuador or a naturally dark skinned person could move to Moscow. For this reason, people with lighter skin need less sun exposure to get their vitamin D, while those with darker skin need much more sun to get the same amount.

These days, health experts propose that vitamin D deficiency is the most rampant and dangerous vitamin deficiency. What then, is the best way to get this all-important vitamin, the sun or a supplement? No matter how Vitamin D is obtained, it ends up in the exact same form once it hits the liver (as long as the oral form is D3). While I would personally suggest getting Vitamin D from the sun if possible because of the other benefits of sun exposure, the most important thing is to just get Vitamin D. If sun exposure is not possible or not feasible, supplementing orally is necessary. The amount of Vitamin D a person should take varies by person, and a blood test is the only certain way to tell if you are getting the right dose orally (the body regulates this quite well if you are getting it from the sun). You want to get your 25(OH)D levels tested and aim for getting them between 50 and 70. Experts are now estimating that most people need at least 10 times the suggested RDA (400 IU) of Vitamin D to accomplish this.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to get your vitamin D from the sun, your body will tell you how much you need and when you have enough (hello, sunburn). The goal is to get adequate sun and not ever burn. For light skinned people this may be only 15-30 minutes, but darker skinned people may need two hours or more!

So then, lather on the sunscreen, right? Not so fast! The chemicals in sunscreen have been linked to cancer themselves (hmmm, could that be the reason for the increasing skin cancer rates?).  Chemicals in sunscreens are also found to create free radicals in the body and produce an estrogenic effect (man boobs anyone?).  So how ever do we protect ourselves from over-exposure to the sun? After realizing that most people aren’t getting enough to begin with, the logical answer once you have gotten your sun exposure for the day… get out of the sun! Find some shade, wear some clothes, but get out of the sun. If you are at the beach or on an adventure race, consider a natural sunscreen or a pure zinc oxide formula.

Is it really that important?

Of course, many people will have trouble accepting the fact that sun exposure is so important, even as study after study show the importance of vitamin D. Of course, it is up to you, ignore the sun and don’t supplement more than the RDA of the big D if you aren’t worried about:

  • Cancer- Research is now estimating that 75% of cancers can be prevented by adequate consumption of Vitamin D.
  • Calcium Levels- Vitamin D controls calcium and phosphate levels in the blood and contributes to bone growth and bone strength
  • Your Immune System-Ever heard of those “t-cells” that protect your body against bacteria and disease? Vitamin D is crucial in their creation and function.
  • Inflammation- Lack of Vitamin D can cause inflammation in the body, then again, so can grain consumption. Have joint pain, soreness or inflammation? Cut the grains and hit the beach!

Other things to remember:

  • Vitamin D helps calcium absorption, but make sure you are getting the calcium from diet or supplements.
  • Deficiency of magnesium can inhibit vitamin D function, so make sure you get that too!
  • Eat proteins and fats
  • Don’t eat grains
  • Jump into sun exposure slowly if you aren’t used to it, though many people who switch to a no-grain, no polyunsaturated or hydrogenated oil diet notice a much higher resistance to the sun.

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

  • Spend a safe amount of time in the sun, but optimize your diet and lifestyle to prevent burning and get out of the sun before skin has a chance to burn
  • Use a cover up or a safe sunscreen for long sun exposure
  • Get blood levels of Vitamin D tested and supplement if needed to get levels in optimal range

Do you get enough Vitamin D? Plan on getting more? Share below!

Reader Comments

  1. Amber@neuronmommy.blogspot.com says

    Hi! I just found your blog and I love it! I have a 2-year old and a 4-month old and was told to give them oral Vitamin D. We live in Texas, so we are definitely in abundance of sun! I really liked this article and think I will stick to natural, limited sun exposure over the oral recommendation.

  2. patty says

    not so fast— just because you think you got enough sun does not mean you got enough Vitamain D for the day. I lived in Calif and got a lot of sun (no sun screen) and took 2,000 IU of D each day and my levels were too low. I now take 5,000 a day and get a lot of sun each day (no sun screen) and now my levels are at 50).

  3. jean says

    Hi wellness mama,
    everything you wrote is what i’ve been hearing on other forums as well. vitamin d is crucial to our health. 
    here’s my story. my teen daughter has been slathered in sunscreen since she was a baby. (we lived in florida) I thought i was doing the “right thing”. imagine our horror this past summer, when 2 basal cell cancers were discovered on her. i was devastated. this has prompted me to seek out health in many forms for myself and our whole family. her vit. d levels were tested and they are indeed, low. (20?) 
    so now what? I’ve bought natural, mineral based sunscreens for her and she has avoided the sun like the plague. I know a small bit of sun is healthy but we just can’t risk it.
    do i keep her out of the sun at all costs? wear natural sunscreen daily or not? 
    her dr.’s say use sunscreen . and they don’t even CARE if its natural or not! They told us to take 1-2,000 iu of vitamin d a day which i don’t think is sufficient. I’m really lost and just want to make my baby healthy and safe! 
    thoughts? comments? appreciated!

    • Joergen Agardtson says

      I was reading that flouride is interfering with the production of melantonine. My own experience tells me that is so. I have been sailing a summer with no sunscreen and on my last trip to Uganda I didn`t use any either, this was unpossible for me before. I am blond and got very little pigmentation.

  4. Daniellegarcia131 says

    I recently checked my vitamin d, 25-hydroxy level. It is 23.9 ng/mL and my magnesium was low ish 1.8 mg/dL. My doctor prescribed ergocalciferol vit d 50,000 unit to take once a week. Said it was fine while breastfeeding… But I’m scared of overdosing the baby trough my milk? Is this possible?

    • Elena Richmond says

      I know this is a super old question, but I wanted to add – there has been research that shows that Vit D supplementation in a large dose 1x/week or every few days is actually absorbed better by the body than regular (daily) smaller doses. I’m trying to find a link to this study which is often quoted, but not having much luck. Hopefully someone else can find it and share it here.

  5. Guest says

    I see that many people are as confused as I am. I read that Vit D could help with auto immune dieses, So I started taking suppliments because I could not handle being outside in the humidity. And Later I found out that the awful symptoms (iritability, nausea, headaches, flu like symptoms) I had been having for several months could of been due to TOO much Vit D. And sure enough within 30 days of cutting back on the Vit D I was back to normal.

    • says

      I definitely suggest blood tests for this, if you are able. Though most people are deficient, it is possible to get too much, and it certainly can have health consequences at that point too! Glad you are feeling better now!

  6. Kristinfriesen says

    Are all vitamin D supplements the same, or is there something specific to look for or a brand/type that you recommend?

  7. Brooke says

    Love this!! I have been against using traditional sunscreen for years and am finally putting all of the pieces together to explain to others. So thank you for sharing this info and for your wealth of information, love, and enlightenment provided via this website!

  8. simone says

    hi there…love your blog! was wanting to supplement my 3 and 5 year old over the winter months {live in dreary UK!} and wondering what you would suggest re:the dosage? I read on the mercola website 2500 IU for 5 year olds, but not so sure with the younger one…am assuming the liquid D3 would be the way to go with young children? thanks!

  9. says

    What is your opinion on the aging effects of the sun? I have Mediterranean olive skin and never burn, but I’d like to look youthful for as long as possible!

  10. Brenda Timpson says

    Hi, I’m a red head and when I am out in even moderate sunshine I burn as soon as 10 minutes. Does this mean I have “filled up” on the Vid-D my body needs at that time? I live in the high deserts of Utah.

  11. Pam says

    Please everyone, also inform yourself about the importance of including Vitamin K2 with your vitamin D. Without K2, calcium can be distributed to the wrong places, such as your arteries. Please do your research on this and decide for yourselves, but this is becoming more and more common knowledge. There are many supplements available now which have D and K2 in combination. There are a few superior food sources of K2, but they don’t seem to be foods that we eat all that commonly, such as brie cheese and natto.

  12. Salixisme says

    Thank you for this post.
    I have been suspicious about sunscreen for a number of years now – since I read that the ones that do not contain zinc oxide contain chemicals that can actually CAUSE cancer when they are exposed to the sun. Basically, if it does not provide a thick, white physical barrier and goes on clear, it could be containing these chemicals.
    My kids have not used sunscreen in about 4 years since that time, and have never been burned. We use physical barriers (long sleeved clothing etc) and they come inside after I feel they have had enough sun.

    And despite living in Canada, when my Vit D levels were checked at the beginning of this summer, they were fine even without me taking any supplements!
    While dietary sources of Vit D are not all that good, if you are eating grass-fed beef and pastured pork, and you consume the fat (which we do), you will be ingesting some vitamin D in the fat as it is a fat soluable vitamin. And as stated in the article we also consume fermented codliver oil.
    No doubt all that helps with our vitamin D levels.

    • Hather19eighty says

      I started giving mine clo at about 1 1/2 to 2 years old. Before that they can get that good stuff through breastmilk.

  13. Marv een says

    Have you ever heard of sun gazing? I would love to know your thoughts on this, it’s not really about vitamin d but is a practise that some believe can heal us if not physically then spiritually.

  14. Alexandra says

    Don’t forget the Vitamin K2! I’ve been reading that D3 is all but useless without it and that K2 helps direct calcium to where it should go.

  15. Megan says

    This is more a question than a comment: Thought I read on your website once that one should take Vitamin D at night, but can’t find any reference to that now. Am I mistaken?

  16. Leigh says

    I’m really intrigued by the idea that sunscreen may be detrimental to your health by depleting vitamin D levels. I have very sensitive skin but am trying to reduce synthetic nasties in my system by following some of your principles. I have linked to this in my blog – hope that’s ok! Please keep posting your wise words :)
    http://lessstressinmylife.blogspot.co.uk/

  17. Tania says

    I have not tried to give my 1.5 year old fclo yet… But am planning on it. BUT I was wondering how you other moms do it? My 4 year old takes it fine… And occasionally I have to give her a couple chocolate chips to keep her mental association to it positive. But I am certainly not going to give the baby chocolate.

    How do you do it?

    Another question … She is allergic to dairy/ butter. So, would giving her fclo with enough pastured pork lard in her diet be almost as good as the high vitamin butter oil? ( I guess in terms of providing K2)

  18. Kristina Harris says

    Dear Wellness Mama,
    I have Multiple Sclerosis. I was diagnosed December 2012. One of the first things my Dr. recommended was for me to take a vit-D suppliment. I have to take 10,000 IU a day. I have been trying to change my lifestyle to a more healthier one. Is there anything else that you would suggest? I am trying to lose weight but not to fast. I just lack energy and I do know that is part of the condition. Please help me!!!

  19. Lisa says

    This makes me happy that I am on the right track. My dr treats hypothyroidism and I take Vitamin D3 5,000 IU every day. When I first started treatment my levels were low. They are not optimal yet, but they are a lot higher:) I also take lots of magnesium throughout the day per his direction as well. All my other supplements, bioidentical hormones, and yeast-free (grain-free) diet are attacking my disease at all angles! So thankful to know I am on the right track with this dr after 10 years and at least 12 other doctors! I am glad you published this article to help people understand and be able to make a more conscious choice about their health and find answers! You motivated me to find a better brand of sunscreen. Thank you:)

    • says

      I don’t have a specific one to recommend, but the test you’ll need to take is “25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D”, and you should be able to get that through your local doctor.

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