July 16, 2015

The Importance of Vitamin D

Ok, first things first:  Staring into the sun will NOT cure your Vit D deficiency and is probably pretty bad for you. 

Although the Native Americans did it to test their eye strength, your weak-ass genes won't stand up to that and if the automatic blink reflex doesn't save you then the (hopefully temporary) blindness that ensues should be a good lesson to never listen to a dessert company's advice about staring into the sun.

Now, let's get into some real facts instead of just blathering on.  Vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States, but that deficiency is avoidable with just a bit of education and some action. 

Hell, if you want to cut this article short, just step out into the sunshine in the smallest bathing suit you can wear and stay there for about 15 minutes a day.  You'll be fine.

Oh, you want to read on and get some REAL advice?  Here are some useful facts on this vitamin (or hormone, depending on who you listen to) along with what you can do to avoid deficiency. 

First, Vitamin D is arguably NOT a vitamin.  Instead, vitamin D is a fat soluble hormone that our body produces under the right conditions. That little gem might win you a Trivial Pursuit game sometime.  Probably not, but there's hope.

Second, Vitamin D is essential for health.  Our bodies produce it, and you can supplement with food or, well, supplements, but it’s not in any natural foods except for fish and egg yolks.  While you can get Vitamin D from food sources, in all practicality you cannot get enough vitamin D from food alone.

What does vitamin D Do?

  • Helps with immune modulation – helps to prevent certain autoimmune diseases
  • Helps to fight infections, including influenza
  • Reduces hypertension, heart diseases, attack and stroke
  • Improves DNA repair
  • Aids in calcium absorption
  • Regulates immune system
  • Regulates neuromuscular system
  • Plays major roles in the life cycle of human cells
  • Plays a role in muscle function and the immune system

What are the Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency?

  • You feel “blue” – this happens because serotonin rises with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure.  This can sometimes be instantly cured by facing the sun in the middle of the day with your shirt off AND YOUR EYES CLOSED!
  • Achy bones
  • Sweaty head
  • Gut trouble

Low vitamin D levels are often associated with cardiovascular and neurological disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. When regulated, adequate vitamin D levels have been known to aid in the treatment of those conditions.

Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

  • Men and women age 50 or older – the ability to create vitamin D decreases with age
  • Those who have limited sun exposure - if you live where there is a long winter season or air pollution, if you always wear sunscreen or have limited time outside between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm you probably have limited sun exposure
  • Overweight people, or those that have a higher muscle mass – vitamin d is fat soluble, body fat collects it. If you are overweight or have a higher body weight due to muscle mass, you’ll need more vitamin D than a person who is more slender or has less muscle mass.
  • Those who have fat malabsorption, live or kidney disorder or take medications that affect vitamin D absorption.
  • Homebound individuals
  • People with darker skin – darker skin doesn’t absorb as much vitamin D from the sun as lighter skin
  • Breastfed infants who are constantly wrapped in 6 layers of clothing – breast milk only contains trace amounts of vitamin D, and not even direct sunlight at an elevation of 24,000' can penetrate some of the absurdly foolish baby over-swaddling I've seen.

Ways to increase your vitamin D levels

Vitamin D cannot practically be obtained through eating food. The exception is naturally fatty cold water fish and foods that are artificially fortified with it, such as cereal and milk. If you are following a strict Paleo lifestyle you probably shudder at the thought of consuming cereal or milk, fortified or otherwise, and well you should because both (especially cereal) are POISON. BLECH.

You can certainly eat more cold water fish, but unless you're daily double fisting raw herring with freshly chopped onion a la the Dutch you won’t get enough vitamin D from fish alone. If you follow the Paleo diet, your ways to increase your vitamin D levels are going to be more limited since you don’t eat grains or dairy, but will of course be healthier overall.

The good news is that our bodies make Vitamin D through direct exposure to sunlight (UVB). The bad news, however, is that most people (especially those in upstate NY where I live, brrrrrr) don’t spend enough time in the sun to get enough vitamin D. BUT, and this is a big but (not to be confused with a big butt), now you have an excuse to go outside on nice days, and a reason to go out on not so nice days and make your neighbors think you're crazy.  And tan in the winter.  And super tough.  All of which are important things in this day and age.

Shocker alert:  It’s actually beneficial to your health to get out and enjoy the sunshine! Now, disclaimer regarding the sun: if you are prone to sunburn, go out for a few minutes at a time – then apply sunscreen (if you're a sunscreen user) so you don’t burn.

Don’t think that you can be outside all day just soaking in those healthy vitamin D filled rays without having to worry about sunburn or skin cancer, although one owner of Paleo Treats regularly gets full sun for hours at a time without any noticeable negative side effects except a white stripe on his chest where he wears a heart rate monitor on long runs.

Keep in mind that when you are wearing sunscreen, you aren’t getting those UVB rays that will get you the vitamin D.

Ok, let's wrap this up.  If you are Vit D deficient, get in the sun OR get some supplements up in ya.  We recommend Triton Nutrition's stuff and take about 10,000 IU a day which horrifies most scientists but feels just fine to us.  As the old soldiers say, when in doubt, overload. 

Yeehaw, sun's out, guns out!

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Author

A self-proclaimed health and fitness freak, Michelle found Paleo in 2013 after becoming addicted to cakes and cookies while pregnant and nursing her 2nd child. Still a “newbie” to Paleo, she loves to encourage others to give Paleo a try, while providing support to their fitness and health efforts. She’s a part-time writer and full-time personal chef to her husband and two kids. She still has a sweet tooth, but is able to keep it at bay with the occasional Paleo Treat

Too much reading...
How about dessert?

Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?

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