Many of my friends and family members ask me if there are certain supplements, I recommend for everyone to take. As a functional nutritionist, there is no one size fits all solution. I look at each client and develop a customized approach for how to help them achieve their health goals. However, if there is one thing that I recommend for nearly all my clients its Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to our health. Vitamin D plays a key role in our immune function, in addition to bone health. Although not necessarily causative, there is a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and a number of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, thyroid dysfunction, high cholesterol, depression, arthritis, chronic inflammation, diabetes, as well as cognitive issues.
Further, given its crucial role in supporting our immune system, ensuring you have adequate levels of Vitamin D is particularly important during cold and flu season. This need is further compounded by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. There have been numerous studies that have shown that there is a correlation between your Vitamin D levels and your risk of getting, as well as recovering from COVID-19. It is also being explored as potential adjunct therapy to other medical treatments when dealing with COVID-19.
One study looked at 185 hospitalized and home quarantined patients, which showed a clear inverse relationship between the severity of the disease and levels of Vitamin D. Nearly 50% of the hospitalized patients were considered clinically deficient in Vitamin D (levels below 12 ng/ml). This study noted a six times higher risk of developing severe symptoms and a fifteen times increased risk of death, as compared to patients with sufficient levels of Vitamin D. Further, another study demonstrated the risk of contracting the virus was 1.77 times higher in patients with a Vitamin D deficiency. People with a Vitamin D status of less than 20 ng/ml had a 54% higher COVID-19 positivity rates than people with levels higher than 55 ng/ml, which is considered the optimal Vitamin D level.
And this is just to name a few….
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common, as there are limited food sources. The best, most efficient source of Vitamin D3 is via the sun and production by the skin. However, limited outdoor time, especially in colder climates, and the fact that we often wear sunscreen when we are outdoors, further contributes to this common deficiency.
The fact is that most of us simply do not get enough of this crucial vitamin. It is estimated that 42% of the U.S. population is deficient in this vitamin. There are also very few foods that contain significant amounts of Vitamin D, which makes it exceedingly difficult to get your Vitamin D solely from food.
It is generally recommended that you get at least 5-30 minutes of sun exposure twice weekly to help to meet your Vitamin D needs, although this can vary depending on several key factors such as age and skin color. As a basic rule of thumb, I like to recommend:
10-15 minutes of direct sunlight without sunscreen daily for medium to fair skin tones.
Darker skin tones up to 40 minutes daily.
Getting outside, ensuring some minimum weekly sun exposure, combined with eating foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D, is a fantastic way to boost your Vitamin D level. For people who live in colder climates with limited sun, particularly in the winter, it is even more important to eat foods rich in Vitamin D. Key food sources include fish like wild-caught salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, canned tuna, cheese, full fat milk, egg yolks, beef liver, mushrooms, as well as cold liver oil.
Moreover, I highly recommend having your Vitamin D levels evaluated, at least once a year. This is included in many comprehensive lab panels, as well as regularly covered by insurance, so it should simply be a part of your annual health exam.
There may be situations where supplementation is required to boost your levels of Vitamin D. I know many people who live in colder clients often take Vitamin D in the winter to counter their lack of sun exposure.
There are two forms of Vitamin D; D2 (ergocalciferol), which is primarily found in mushrooms and some fortified foods (i.e., cereals) and D3 (cholecalciferol), which primarily comes from animal-derived foods. Supplements can be found in both forms, however Vitamin D3 is recommended as studies have shown that taking D3 is up to twice as effective at raising blood levels of Vitamin D. A deficiency of Vitamin D is determined by blood levels of 25-hydroxy (OH) vitamin D falling below 25 ng/ml. Optimal levels are between 45-60 ng/ml. As Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it recommended that any supplements should be taken with food.
Sometimes being proactive about your health and doing things that naturally support your immune system is the best way to counteract our risk of getting sick. There is a reason a little fresh air and sunshine makes us feel better, because it is actually making us healthier!