SOLON– Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, especially in the winter? If you are like most of us, one of the main reasons you feel this way is due to a lack of sunlight and vitamin D. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when we receive direct skin exposure to sunlight. In fact, we are supposed to get 90 percent of our vitamin D from the sun. This becomes a real challenge living in Iowa during the primary winter months, November through February. In the winter, the sun is not as powerful and our bodies are simply unable to produce ample amounts of vitamin D.
To fully understand what this means to our health, consider how vitamin D plays a vital role in:
Bone health. Vitamin D transports calcium from your stomach to your bones. Without it, you are literally flushing your calcium supplements down the toilet. In fact, a Harvard medical study found that when the elderly added a vitamin D supplement with their calcium, they experienced 22 percent fewer falls and 26 percent fewer hip fractures.
Reducing pain and inflammation. Vitamin D helps produce natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic chemicals in our bodies to control chronic pain and inflammation. In studies, vitamin D deficiency has been found in 40-60 percent of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients.
Preventing systemic inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to correlate with hypertension, heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes, depression and multiple sclerosis– conditions in which the body’s organ systems become inflamed. Risks for many of these conditions could be reduced or eliminated with a sufficient intake of vitamin D.
Immunity. People with low blood levels of vitamin D have exhibited a higher susceptibility for colds, flu, and respiratory infections. In a 2010 Yale study, 198 people were monitored for four months, and it was found that those who had a vitamin D levels below 38 ng/mL were sick with acute respiratory infections for on average 4.3 days while the group with scores above 38 ng/mL were sick only .8 days.
So, how do you find out if you are deficient in vitamin D? There is a simple, specific blood test for vitamin D3 called the 25(OH)D. You are considered clinically deficient in vitamin D if your blood level falls below 32 ng/mL. Researchers believe that optimal levels are between 40-100 ng/mL.
How, then, can you keep your vitamin D levels up? In November through February, you can either move south with the snowbirds or consider supplementing with vitamin D3. Only small amounts of vitamin D are found in foods like fish, eggs, and vitamin D-fortified milk, so supplements are often the best way to go. A vitamin D3 tablet of 4,000 IU is considered the typical dose to achieve a blood level of 40 ng/mL. Sometimes, however, doses of 8,000-10,000 IU may be necessary to achieve optimal levels of vitamin D.
From March to October, you should try to get 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, twice a week, on your face, arms and legs when the sun is at its strongest– between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. As important as it is to regularly apply sunscreen, keep in mind that even a low-level sunblock of SPF 8 prevents 95 percent of the UV rays needed to produce vitamin D from ever making it to your system, so try to wait just a few minutes before applying any sunscreen. In this case, it is definitely the most beneficial to find a balance between harnessing the sun’s positive effects on your body while still protecting yourself from overexposure to harmful rays.
If you are suffering from chronic pain, recurring colds and flu, or have a family history of heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis, be sure to see your doctor and get your vitamin D levels tested. And even if you do not have these conditions, consider taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter and early spring months to fight off illness and keep the pain away.