It turns out Mom was right when she told me to get my head out of my book and go outside to play in the sun. Most of us associate low Vitamin D levels with depression but there is so much more to the story.
When I found out my blood glucose levels were high, my Vitamin D levels were, at the same time ‘insufficient’. That got me curious and I began to do some research. It turns out there is indeed a link between low Vitamin D levels and Diabetes type 2: 61% of people with diabetes are deficient in Vitamin D:
Lack of vitamin D is related to impaired cells that produce insulin; activated vitamin D can naturally increase insulin production (possibly preventing diabetes).
~ Dina Aronson, MS, RD and Julieanne Hever, MS, RD, CPT, Demystifying D in Volume 32 of Vegetarian Voice.
That got my attention! But on doing further research I found out that Vitamin D does even more. Here are 6 more reasons why you might want to pay attention and ensure you have optimal blood levels of Vitamin D:
- With optimal levels of Vitamin D you’ll be gaining muscle and losing weight. Research has shown that the higher the blood levels of Vitamin D, the stronger the muscles you will have with less fat in the muscles.
- You will have stronger bones. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, and bone mineralization (what we want) while preventing bone breakdown (which we don’t want!)
- It has a protective effect on your heart. There is a link between low Vitamin D blood levels and calcium buildup in the arteries. With sufficient levels of Vitamin D, the uptake of cholesterol is inhibited.
- It helps protect against cancer. It seems that having sufficient levels of Vitamin D in your body stimulates your natural tumour-suppression genes which means cancer cells do not have the tools to grow and divide. Research shows an especially strong role in cancer prevention for breast, ovarian, lung lymphoma, bladder, renal cell and malignant melanoma with optimal blood levels of Vitamin D.
- It can control the symptoms of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoraisis, lupus and type 1 Diabetes.
- Optimal levels of Vitamin D activates your immune system. A study found that the immune systems’ killer cells — T Cells — rely on Vitamin D to become active. Low Vitamin D levels mean you are less effective in fighting infection.
Vitamin D receptor cells are found in every cell of your body and Vitamin D is created naturally when your skin is exposed to the sun. We can even ‘store up’ sun exposure in those receptor cells for a time. But when we stay indoors or go through prolonged grey days of winter as we often get in the North Pacific, many of us become deficient. Even in the summer, if we are too vigilant about covering our skin with clothing and sunblock, we can rob ourselves of the Vitamin D we need. Some studies estimate that almost half of the world’s population have lower than optimal levels of Vitamin D.
How much is enough?
Optimal – greater than 100 nmol/L
Insufficient – between 25-50 nmol/L
Deficient – below 25 nmol/L
Can you get too much Vitamin D? The evidence seems to suggest that it is unlikely, having said that, the best way to get Vitamin D is through being in the sun. For example if you expose your skin to the sun 2-3 times a week, your body produces 2000 – 4000 IU of Vitamin D, depending on the time of year, the time of day and your location.
Skin pigmentation also plays a role. Me, a fair skinned individual, might need only 3 minutes of direct sun exposure during 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. several times a week during the summer, while my husband who has a darker complexion would need a little more time to absorb his weekly dose. This explains why people with more pigment in their skins can be deficient.
We need the sun but of course we also need to avoid sun damage. I try to get my sun exposure either in the morning or early evening (and in the summer, before I cover up or put sunscreen on.) In the winter, I have to admit I get whatever I can get and I supplement with Vitamin D tablets. There are dietary sources of Vitamin D as well: in fish liver oil, fatty fish and dairy products, including eggs.
If you think you might need to supplement with Vitamin D I do recommend that you consult your doctor and request a test for 25(OH)D level to make sure you are getting the correct dosage and that your system is balanced.
For further reading, this article is quite informative. It is from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and this article is the result of my personal research and experience.