The Crucial Benefits of Vitamin D
It’s more likely than not that you’re deficient in one essential vitamin: vitamin D.
Now is the time to start increasing your vitamin D because it's effective in fighting off the flu and other ailments. In one study, those who took vitamin D had a 90% reduced risk of respiratory infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only a minority of people are getting enough vitamin D every day—between 5% and 30%, depending on skin color. The problem is so severe that worldwide more than a billion people—and probably the majority of the world’s population—have vitamin D deficiencies in what one doctor calls “an ignored epidemic.”
Even in the past three decades, the number of people who are getting enough vitamin D has dropped by half. So, what is going on? Why are we so deficient in this essential vitamin?
Also called “the sun vitamin,” vitamin D is absorbed primarily through the skin via sun exposure. To get enough vitamin D, we need unfiltered daylight on our bodies every day. More specifically, we need at least 15 minutes outside with 40% of our bodies exposed to the light. Although vitamin D is available in some foods, including fatty fish and egg yolks, the majority of our vitamin D is produced through sun exposure.
The reason we aren’t getting enough vitamin D comes down to one simple explanation: We are not spending enough time outside.
Modern, sedentary lifestyles make it easy for us to go from home to office to gym to dinner and back home again—all without meaningful exposure to unfiltered daylight. Those who work indoors are particularly at risk. Window glass effectively blocks UVB radiation, which is a good thing, except when it comes to getting the vitamin D you need. Even sunblock prevents vitamin D production.
Additionally, several other factors reduce vitamin D levels. We produce less vitamin D when we age or have higher melanin levels (i.e. darker skin).
Maybe vitamin D doesn’t sound so essential. There are dozens of other vitamins and minerals to keep an eye on, right? But vitamin D plays a key role in your wellbeing. Here, we’ll explore why vitamin D is so important for mental and physical health, and what you can do to amp up your own vitamin D levels.
Boost sex drive, mood, and immunity with vitamin D
How does vitamin D function in our bodies? Vitamin D plays an essential role in bone and muscle strength. Adequate levels of vitamin D allow us to absorb calcium from the foods we eat, and our muscles are unable to grow and function without it.
Without vitamin D, your body only absorbs 10% of your calcium intake. A recent study showed that vitamin D is necessary for normal muscle size and strength. The risk of weakness, falls, and fractures shoot up when vitamin D deficiency occurs.
This powerful vitamin is necessary not only for musculoskeletal health, but also for our nervous and immune systems, which require vitamin D to carry messages to the brain and fend off illness, respectively. Vitamin D can also help prevent cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.
Just as important, this vitamin plays an essential role in mood regulation. Ever feel happier after spending a few minutes outdoors? Studies link vitamin D deficiency to depression and reduced brain functioning. Reduced sun exposure in the winter is a major reason people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which has the most brutal effects from late fall to early spring.
And, vitamin D is sometimes called the sex vitamin for a reason: Vitamin D deficiency can reduce estrogen in women and testosterone in men, lowering libido and making sex uncomfortable due to reduced vaginal discharge.
Increase vitamin D levels with three simple methods
Wondering whether you might be deficient in vitamin D? Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Frequent infections and illness
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Reduced libido
- Bone and lower back pain
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Depressed mood
- Soft, brittle bones and bone loss
- Slow-healing wounds
Your physician can test for vitamin D deficiency to see if that’s the cause of your symptoms. Luckily, vitamin D deficiency is easily treated, and even if you aren’t officially diagnosed with a deficiency, there several easy are ways to amp up production of the vitamin and ensure long-term health.
Here are three things you can do to increase vitamin D in your body:
Eat more vitamin D-packed foods. This nutrient isn’t found in many dietary sources, but it is found in high levels in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, egg yolks, beef liver, mushrooms, and fortified foods, including many dairy products (check the labels to see whether vitamin D has been added to the ingredients).
Spend more time outside. The best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure. Spending just 13 minutes outside, three times a week, at mid-day, has been shown to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Soak up the sun’s rays without sunscreen and with your arms and legs exposed (just make sure you lather on the sunscreen after 10 or 15 minutes). A note: For those with darker skin, higher amounts of melanin absorb more of the sun’s UV rays, meaning you’ll have to spend more time in the sun to get enough vitamin D.
- Take vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D-rich supplements such as cod liver oil and vitamin tablets can help you reach adequate levels. Both vitamin D2 and D3 can be used by the body. Current guidelines suggest supplementing with 400-800 IU daily, but research suggests those numbers are far too low. An amount between 1,000 and 2,000 IU would help nearly everyone reach the healthiest blood levels of vitamin D—but don’t exceed 4,000 IU without a doctor’s recommendation. Over-supplementation can cause damage too.
Increasing your vitamin D levels is an easy biohack that can boost sex drive, mood, and immunity—taking a host of health issues off the table and making it easier for you to find your chi!
All in all, vitamin D is essential for wellbeing and healthy body functioning, helping you live a longer, happier life with less pain and more strength and vigor.