Hi, I’m Dr. Chad Larson. Guess what I’m doing right now. Yep, you guessed it. I’m getting my vitamin D. Vitamin D comes from the sun and it’s an essential nutrient. Remember “essential” means you don’t make it, and you can’t live without it. You need an exogenous influence. You have to get it from food or supplements, or from the sun. If you are literally inside all day long, you’re not going to make vitamin D. So you have to get it from one of these outside sources. And being in the sun is free, it’s easy, and it’s very accessible to most people.
Vitamin D is one of those nutrients that is absolutely vital. There’s not an organ system that isn’t influenced in some way by vitamin D.
Last time we talked about the importance of zinc, and we’re going to have a series on different nutrients where we’ll take a little bit of a deeper dive. Because I think most people just are not getting enough information from mainstream sources, even their own medical doctor, to educate them about things like vitamin D. I’m not going to put you through a nutrition course, but I’ll just give you the highlights of these nutrients. What it is, what it does, what are some symptoms/signs of deficiency or insufficiency, and then where to get it from either foods and/or supplements. And if we get it from supplements, what’s the best form?
So let’s dive into vitamin D. There’s a defined deficiency of vitamin D, but it’s pretty rare in our culture. For children it’s called rickets and for adults it’s called osteomalacia. And these aren’t very common conditions in the U.S., at least at this point.
But there are many signs and symptoms of vitamin D insufficiency, and I’ve looked at lots and lots of labs on vitamin D. Every patient of mine that I’ve run labs for, vitamin D is part of it. And I find that even my “outdoorsy” patients who are outside quite a bit, at least to some degree, are not outdoors that much relative to our hunter/gatherer genetics, which would have us outside the vast majority of the time.
Vitamin D is very essential and we need to get it on a regular basis.
But, the thing is most people are either too clothed when they go outside, or they slap on sunblock before they even walk outside. So they’re not getting enough UVB penetration of the skin that then gets converted in the liver and kidneys and produces this essential nutrient. So these important things have to happen in order to absorb, assimilate, and utilize vitamin D. Yet most people are just not outside to the degree necessary to produce enough vitamin D. We always focus on the most natural form of these nutrients that we should be getting, and you should be getting vitamin D from the sun. That’s the best way to do it.
So I’m out here right now in the afternoon and you can see that my shadow is longer than I am, so I’m not really making that much vitamin D at this time of the day. There’s a better time of the day to come outside with your face, arms, and legs exposed, as much skin as you can make available to absorb the UVB radiation. But the time of day that you actually make the most vitamin D would not be endorsed by most dermatologists and oncologists. But there’s a formula we can use to keep our skin safe and still get a sufficient amount of vitamin D. I’ll speak more about that in just a moment.\
Now, we’ve mentioned rickets and osteomalacia, but there are other signs and symptoms that indicate at least an insufficiency of vitamin D, and there are lots of studies of conditions that are associated with vitamin D deficiency. These are things like hypertension, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, blood sugar dysregulation issues. We know that certain cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and especially colon cancer have been associated with vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.
Then, obviously, we know that one of the main reasons most people are aware of vitamin D is osteoporosis. At least I hope they know that connection. It’s one that just a few years ago most people didn’t know as much about, but more recently there’s been an increase in our comprehensive understanding, even in mainstream health, that vitamin D is very crucial for your bone integrity.
A lot of people think that osteoporosis and osteopenia are calcium deficiency conditions, and they’re partly right. They’re right in that, yes, you do need calcium for your bones to maintain normal bone health and bone integrity. But just taking calcium or eating foods rich in calcium is not going to insure that the calcium finds its way to the bone. You need vitamin D to facilitate calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. If you have an insufficient amount of vitamin D, that can lead to osteoporosis and osteopenia. And we talk a lot about that, especially with women who are at a greater risk factor for that condition, and what we can do to mitigate it by getting enough vitamin D and kind of top off the levels in their system. Fortunately, vitamin D levels can be tested and we can take the guesswork out.
Furthermore, we also know that the immune system is very dependent on normal levels of vitamin D. Your immune cells have vitamin D receptors on them, and immune cells don’t have receptors for something unless it’s very vital to their normal function. Vitamin D is very important for your general immune health. And I say general because vitamin D influences both key components of the immune system. Your innate immune system is things like your white blood cells. A pathogen lands on your cells, and this signals the immune system to send out things like macrophages which try to gobble up the pathogen. This requires vitamin D for normal function, so it’s important to your innate immune system.
-Dr Chad Larson
But we also understand that there’s a connection between autoimmune conditions and vitamin D. Epidemiological studies that have looked at certain autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, conditions where there’s been significant immune system dysregulation, they see that vitamin D is commonly low in these populations. Vitamin D relative to these conditions has more to do with the humoral or adaptive immune response, which involves things like antibodies. So we know that vitamin D is very crucial for multiple layers of your immune system.
So where do we get it? We get it from the sun, as we’ve been talking about. Also there are certain foods that provide a little bit of it. Most of them are seafoods like salmon and cod liver oil. The oily fishes such as sardines and the like have vitamin D in them. For a plant based source, mushrooms have a decent amount of vitamin D. But obviously the sun is going to give you your greatest amount of vitamin D.
Now, I mentioned earlier that I’ll give you a formula that helps you get enough vitamin D from the sun and keep your skin safe at the same time. The formula goes like this. You want to be out in the sun when it’s more or less directly overhead. Remember you want to be longer than your shadow, for your shadow to be shorter than you are. That’s how you know the sun is pretty much straight overhead, and that’s between like 12 pm and 3 pm. Also you want as much skin exposed as is appropriate; at least arms, legs, and face. But here’s the key to the formula. You want to be out in the sun during that time of day, but only for half the time it takes you to burn. This is how we keep the skin safe: just half the time it takes you to burn.
So if you normally sunburn in, say, 30 minutes, then all you need is 15 minutes of good sun exposure and you’ve probably made like five, ten thousand IU of vitamin D, which is a good daily dose of vitamin D. People with fairer skin will require less time to make that amount of vitamin D. And for those with darker skin, it’s going to take longer to make therapeutic levels, physiological levels of vitamin D. So that’s a formula that will help you out.
And of course there are supplements from which you can get vitamin D, as well. And for the most part, what you’ll find in supplements are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Most foods that say they’re fortified with vitamin D provide specifically vitamin D2. Vitamin D3 is found in supplements that you take orally, a capsule that comes in a bottle. Vitamin D3 is several hundred times more absorbable than vitamin D2. So when you get that fortified food with vitamin D in it, that’s not the best kind of vitamin D. It’ll help to combat full-on deficiency. But if we really want optimal levels and optimal function of vitamin D in your system, it’s really the vitamin D3 in supplement form that we would suggest, not the D2.
So look for that. That’s a way to insure that you get a sufficient amount of vitamin D. And then of course, you should have your levels tested. Have your doctor check your vitamin D. We call it 25 hydroxyvitamin D levels. This will really help to take out the guesswork, because it is a bit of guesswork until we have some laboratory evidence to tell us what your levels are. And it also helps us with dosing. Do you need four hundred IU of vitamin D, or do you need 10,000 IU of vitamin D? It could really vary considerably from person to person and case to case, and looking at the levels is pretty critical.
So that’s a little primer on vitamin D. I mean, there are entire books written about vitamin D. Lots of great research studies. It’s very common in high quality medical conferences, there’s a lot of discussion about vitamin D and its effects globally on the system.
Because when we talk about conditions that are associated with vitamin D, we’re talking about a lot of stuff that people are commonly suffering from. As I mentioned, it’s associated with heart disease and certain types of diabetes and hypertension. But also mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and insomnia. We know that when vitamin D levels are higher, there’s a decrease in these kinds of signs and symptoms and conditions.
It’s one of the global nutrients, by which I mean that your entire body, nearly every organ system, requires vitamin D for normal function. So, have your levels tested. And if it’s insufficient, make sure and remediate that with certain foods, by going out and spending some in the sun, and with supplements that provide it in its best form, vitamin D3.
So, hopefully that was helpful. I will keep reading the studies and bringing you the information. Until then, get some sun, and keep it real.