Can Vitamin D Save My Life?
Vitamin D is probably one of the most essential vitamins we all need in order to survive. For most of us, vitamin D only crosses our minds when summer comes along and the sun is shining all day long. Like I’ve said in other articles about Seasonal Affective Disorder and Mental Health, vitamin D is essential to your emotional and psychological health as well as your physical health. Commonly referred to as the “Sunshine vitamin” - it’s no wonder that millions of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vitamin D deficiency statistics are even worse for those who are institutionalized, hospitalized, or the elderly in nursing homes.
It may have struck you as odd to see the title of this blog - “Can Vitamin D Save My Life?” Why vitamin D, specifically? This blog post will give a run down the life-saving benefits of vitamin D (along with some quick tips on how to get more vitamin D).
Vitamin D plays a vital role in how your body functions, especially your mental health. When you have a vitamin D deficiency, the symptoms can be very similar to depression. They include mood changes, fatigue, loss of interest in activities that were previously found interesting, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Vitamin D deficiency and depression are correlated. The actions of social withdrawal and isolation result in less vitamin D absorption. With that being said, vitamin D in this instance can literally save your life.
Vitamin D was one of the first supplements I took that I could tell a radical difference. I was living on the beautiful Central Coast of California. Although gorgeous and temperate, the weather was far from helpful with my depression, anxiety and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Mornings were often gloomy and overcast. The clouds would usually clear by 3pm, but by then, my poor body and mood were already suffering from the lack of light. I am diligent to get quarterly blood tests to track my vitamin D levels and I take supplements accordingly. Even now, I notice a difference in low light seasons. When fall approaches and the mornings are dark, I feel a palpable difference in my energy and outlook in the morning.
According to a study done in 2018 on the effects of vitamin D on weight loss, “Previous studies have shown that obesity may increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Furthermore, other studies have demonstrated that vitamin D insufficiency was accompanied by higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and obesity.“ Whether you had low vitamin D levels or obesity first, they are linked to each other. The study examined participants' BMI (Body Mass Index) and levels of vitamin D in order to determine if there was indeed a correlation. Their results found that there was a decrease in BMI after utilizing a vitamin D supplement. In other words, the participants lost weight by using vitamin D supplements. This result not only shows promise for obesity but also for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This shows another life-saving benefit of vitamin D. A study done at Harvard in 2016 documented the dangers of excess weight on life spans. For every 5 points of BMI over the healthy weight range, you have a 31% higher risk of premature death. Specific causes of death included heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.
Osteoporosis, a disease that is characterized by weakened and thinning bones, has significant mortality rates as well as health costs. Strategies to strengthen your bones can only be achieved by maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. This vitamin D level manipulation can also reduce the risk of fractures (which at an older age can be debilitating). Long gone are the days when your doctor tells you “take a calcium supplement” to support your bones. We now know that vitamins D and K are both integral nutrients for strong bones. I recommend this bone building formula for men and women who are concerned about bone density.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease and vitamin D is still an ongoing medical research concept - Dr. Michos at Johns Hopkins, for example, says that this question will be answered in the next 5-8 years with more research and clinical/academic studies. This sentiment is also reflected in an academic research article published in 2013. There is a disagreement among researchers as to whether or not vitamin D can help with heart disease. It has already been proven that vitamin D decreases obesity which is a contributing factor to heart disease. Whether or not it directly helps with heart disease, or indirectly through decreasing obesity is yet to be seen. Either way, it is wise to achieve and maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
One of the most common questions people are asking right now about supplements is, “will this prevent COVID-19?” While vitamin D does have immune strengthening properties, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to prove that it prevents COVID-19. As COVID-19 is a virus, vitamin D needs to be studied more to determine its antiviral properties. An interesting point brought up that I read about in a study from the Royal College of Physicians was regarding vitamin D and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. They begin by explaining factors that tend to make COVID-19 infections more severe. T regulatory lymphocytes (Tregs) are one of the primary forms of defense that your body has. Tregs work to reduce inflammation and viral responses in the body. They are found in low amounts in COVID patients and can be increased by taking vitamin D supplements. While they do not provide an answer to the question, “Can this supplement cure COVID?”, they do provide some interesting insight that I will be looking forward to seeing expanded in the future. Additional research has also found that 80% of the sampled COVID patients at the time of data collection were vitamin D deficient. While this does not identify a direct causation pattern, it does provide another piece of evidence that brings to light the importance of vitamin D.
1. If I can instill any piece of advice from this article, it is to be aware and mindful of your mental health and wellbeing throughout the year. An article from the New York Times reported on how Seasonal Affective Disorder is not only found during the winter months. With our increased time indoors due to the pandemic, there have been increased instances of SAD during the warmer months.
2. The most natural way to get vitamin D is from a safe amount of sun exposure. Midday during the summer is the best time to get sunshine. A general rule of thumb is to limit it to 15 minutes a day. Sunscreen is the best way to prevent skin cancer, but it can be difficult to balance the need for vitamin D with the avoidance of skin cancer. Experts recommend only exposing a third of your body to the sun. (Your legs, for example). Please be responsible with sunscreen application and avoidance of sunburns, however.
3. We used to believe that you could get enough sunlight for healthy vitamin D levels. This is both true and untrue. If you were to go outside everyday and expose most of your skin to sunlight, you might be able to get enough sunlight for optimal vitamin D levels. But there are so many variables involved such as the season, your complexion, the amount of skin you have exposed, your genetics (VRD snps), and the timing. Scientists estimate that at least 41% of the US adult population has low vitamin D levels. This is where vitamin D supplements come into play. Like I discussed in a previous vitamin D post, Cod Liver Oil, trout, and salmon are a great source of vitamin D. Cod Liver Oil liquid is a great option. As is Sockeye Salmon Oil Softgels. Or, you may find that a vitamin D supplement is a better option. Thorne’s vitamin D-5000 is a reputable option. (There is a liquid option too!)
How does vitamin D help everyday life? Is vitamin D essential for life?
Vitamin D is absolutely crucial for human life. It has important functions in your teeth, bones, heart, immune system, nervous system, and skin.
Does vitamin D Make You Happy?
Vitamin D itself does not make you happy. But a lack of vitamin D in your blood can lead to depression and even suicidality. It can take months of supplementing and getting outside to raise your vitamin D levels to optimal ranges.
Can you take too much vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. That means it is best absorbed with fat. Which also means it is difficult to absorb without fat. There has never been a death due to vitamin D made through your skin. The occurrence of vitamin D toxicity (not death) has increased since the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance was increased from 400iu to 600iu in the early 2000s). Although a majority of the population is vitamin D deficient, it is still important to get regular testing if you are supplementing. Your doctor can easily order a test that is covered under your insurance. You can also order your own test kit online. I recommend this calculator to help you determine how much vitamin D you will need in order to raise your levels to your desired range.
2020 (and 2021) taught us a lot about how long we can handle staying indoors, away from others, and away from nature and the sun. Society as a whole is paying more attention to mental health today. Interested in how vitamin D can save your life? Schedule a consult with me, Carly Neubert BA, NC.