Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in the US. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 50 percent of American kids ages one to five years old and 70 percent of children from six to 11 years old have insufficient vitamin D levels in their body.
Vitamin D is not your typical vitamin. Dubbed as the sunshine vitamin, it’s actually a steroid hormone that’s best obtained through safe sun exposure, not through fortified foods like milk. This explains the mounting research suggesting higher levels of vitamin D deficiency in individuals of all ages who constantly wear sun protection or limit their outdoor activities.
Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola is a strong advocate of sun exposure as the best source of natural vitamin D. He believes that the recommended amount of time needed for each person to stay under the sun varies depending on different factors, including:
- Use of sunscreen
- Cloud over and pollution
- Surface reflection
- Time of the day
- Ozone layer
- Skin color or current tan level A
- Antioxidant levels
- General diet
Your skin is an excellent indicator for this. If your skin turns the lightest shade of pink, this means that you’ve already had enough sun exposure. Make sure that you reach for cover or go indoors as soon as possible, as staying under the sun after this point will no longer give you further benefits and will only put you at risk for sunburn.
If you’re tied to a nine-to-five office job, which makes it impossible for you to get some sunshine during the day, or if you’re living in areas where the sun rarely makes an appearance, Dr. Mercola suggests using a safe tanning bed with beneficial UV lights. Go to a local tanning salon near your area that uses only high-quality tanning beds, or better yet, get your own home tanning bed as an investment.
Remember: a loud buzzing noise in a tanning bed indicates that it has magnetic ballasts, which are well-known sources of cancer-causing electromagnetic fields or EMFs.
For Dr. Mercola, oral vitamin D supplementation should only be considered if you feel that you need more vitamin D and that you’re not getting an adequate dose, perhaps due to limited access to sun exposure or safe tanning beds. However, he also stressed the importance of increasing your vitamin K2, magnesium, and zinc while on oral vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and will need all these other vitamins to work properly.
How to Know If You Lack Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that provides a wide range of health benefits, which help you combat different types of infections and diseases. That said, a deficiency in it makes you vulnerable to these health threats.
If you are worried that you or someone you love is vitamin D deficient, here are some signs to watch out for:
- Having a dark skin. African Americans and other individuals with darker skin actually need 10 times more sun exposure than people with pale skin, because they have more pigments serving as natural sunscreen protecting them from sunlight.
- Feeling “blue.” Sun exposure affects the rise and fall of your serotonin levels, a brain hormone responsible for mood elevation. Scientists in a study done in 2006 found that adults with lower levels of vitamin D are more prone to depression compared to those with healthy doses.
- Being 50 or older. As you get older, your skin can’t make enough vitamin D from sun exposure, and your kidney loses its natural ability to convert vitamin D into the form your body needs. Add that to the fact that most elderly individuals spend more time indoors.
- Being overweight or obese (or having higher muscle mass). Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, your body fats act as a “sink” by collecting it. This means that the more overweight you are, the more vitamin D you’ll need. This is also true for people with higher bodyweight due to muscle mass.
- Aching bones. Throbbing and aching bones, particularly in combination with fatigue, may be a telltale sign of vitamin D deficiency.
- Sweaty head. Extreme sweating in infants due to neuromuscular irritability may be an early sign of vitamin D deficiency.
- Gut trouble. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, any digestive problem – including celiac, non-gluten sensitivity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Crohn’s – that may affect your body’s ability to absorb fat may result in poor vitamin D absorption.
If you happen to have any of these risk factors, Dr. Joseph Mercola suggests that you get your vitamin D serum levels checked through 25(OH)D or 25-hydroxyvitamin D test every six months, preferably during your highest point in August and at your lowest point in February (if you live in the US).