I was going to brush this one off. Chock it up as “item noted” and take action swiftly and quietly to ensure that we get on the right track. But I couldn’t. I can’t. I feel like I need to share this one.
Because it struck me to my core. Here I am again getting smacked over the head with health information that I thought I should have known but didn’t. And this time…..it’s not about me, it’s about my kids. The ones I am supposed to protect, look out for and ensure their overall health and well-being.
And well….I feel like I flunked. A big fat “F”.
But you know what? I realize my “mess” is my “message” and by sharing it, hopefully it can shed some light and help you on your health journey too.
You see, my son has always had bouts of battling a stuffy nose, food sensitivities and getting sick a heck of a lot more often than his older sister. I chalked it up to exposure to all the germs floating around school, change of seasons with allergies and periods of disrupted sleep.
Well the last few months, my son has been combatting one cold after the other and his nasal congestion won’t let up. He’s a trooper and plays it off like it’s no big deal...but listening to him try to breath is like listening to a freight train coming down the tracks. You can hear it from a long distance and it gets louder and louder the closer you get and there’s seemingly no end in sight to the intensity. I can only imagine how it feels for him...….
I wanted to get him some relief, so I made an appointment with his doctor who ran some baseline bloodwork and an IgE (immunoglobulin) panel for common allergens.
In addition to a few other “holy crap” standouts on his labs including mold (I’ll circle back to that one in another post).....his Vitamin D level was 18. 18!! The lower limit of normal is 30. His vitamin D level is almost 50% less than the lowest acceptable lab value. Whaaat….seriously? Yes, seriously... My heart sank. I felt I had failed my kid.
We live in the Pacific Northwest where getting sufficient UVB rays for our bodies to generate Vitamin D is lacking for about 8 months out of the year. But because my son is really active as a year-round outdoor athlete and we eat nutrient dense whole foods, I thought he would be fine…..WRONG!
Despite recent articles disputing the benefits of routine vitamin D supplementation, there is an abundance of research that supports the role that the hormone vitamin D plays in supporting our health.
The backstory on Vitamin D is that it’s a fat-soluble hormone that is naturally present in a variety of foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Our bodies also generate this hormone when ultraviolet B rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. The form of Vitamin D obtained from sun exposure, food, and supplements is biologically inactive and must be converted in the liver and subsequently the kidney to its active form.
What does Vitamin D do?
It promotes calcium absorption in the gut to support normal mineralization of bone to promote bone growth and bone remodeling so that our bones don’t become thin, brittle or misshapen (aka rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis).
Vitamin D also plays other roles in the body and studies have suggested Vitamin D may be helpful in treating or preventing autoimmune disease (including psoriasis, lupus, vitiligo), cancer, depression, chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease, neuromuscular diseases, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, autism, osteoporosis and boosting sleep.
Many of these benefits came to light as research has shown Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a host of health issues including breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, mood disorders and weight gain. The highlight of these studies was that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into the science of Vitamin D this article, in addition to all the links above, gives a fantastic overview of Vitamin D. That said, here is the bottom line I want to share: Vitamin D in and of itself is not the be-all end-all hormone for our health, but evidence supports it plays an important role and it’s valuable to know your levels even if more research needs to be done.
How much Vitamin D do you need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day and this goes up to 800 IU a day for those older than age 70. That said, the true answer is that it depends on your unique situation which can be impacted by factors including your genetics, your lifestyle and your geography so the only way to know for sure if to have your Vitamin D levels checked by your healthcare provider.
Could you be at risk for Vitamin D Deficiency? The answer is “possibly” if:
You aren’t consuming the recommended levels of the vitamin over time : Most of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal-based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, beef liver and fortified dairy products, so those folks who follow a more strict diet, especially vegans and vegetarians, may be at higher risk.
Your exposure to sunlight (UVB) is limited: If you live in northern latitudes, are homebound or primarily work indoors you may be at risk for deficiency as your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
You have dark skin: Although the pigment melanin offers greater protection from sun damage, it also reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure and could pose a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Your liver or kidneys can’t convert vitamin D to its active forms: Certain medical conditions as well as aging make these organs less able to convert vitamin D to its active form which increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Gut issues create challenges for your digestive tract to adequately absorb Vitamin D: Medical conditions including celiac disease, crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis can affect your intestines ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat.
You are taking certain medications: Medications including corticosteroids like prednisone, cholesterol-lowering drugs like choestyramine and weight loss drugs like orlistat (aka Alli and Xenical) can impair vitamin D metabolism. If you take any of these drugs, ask your healthcare provider to check your vitamin D levels.
How can you stay on top of your Vitamin D?:
1. Test your vitamin D levels
In traditional medicine the recommended lab reference range is 40 to 60, but from a functional medicine approach where the goal is for optimally healthy levels the range is higher, somewhere between 60 and 80, depending on the person.
2. Enjoy the sunshine
Getting outdoors in the sun, especially earlier in the day for about 15 to 60 minutes, (depending on your skin tone and your geographic location) is a great way to boost your vitamin D levels and your endorphins...and let’s be honest, we could all use some feel good vibes. Just enough exposure to get the benefit without the burn. Remember, I'm all about skin cancer prevention.
3. Fill your plate with vitamin D-rich food.
These are some good options:
Sardines: 3 ounces: 164 IU (41 percent Daily Value)
Salmon: 3 ounces: 400 IU (100 percent Daily Value)
Mackerel: 3 ounces: 400 IU (100 percent Daily Value)
Tuna: 3 ounces: 228 IU (57 percent Daily Value)
Organic eggs: 1 large: 41 IU (10 percent Daily Value)
Mushrooms: 1 cup: 2 IU (1 percent Daily Value)
Raw grass-fed milk: 1 cup: 98 IU (24 percent Daily Value)
Cod liver oil: 1 teaspoon: 440 IU (over 100 percent Daily Value)
4. Supplement when necessary
Because it’s challenging to get sufficient vitamin D exclusively through food, and most of us either don’t spend enough time outdoors or don’t live where the sun shines much of the time, supplementation may be necessary.
Depending on what your baseline vitamin D level is, I typically suggest starting supplementation between 2,000 and 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
To optimize absorption, especially for those dealing with gut issues, I prefer liposomal formulations or drops that include MCT or coconut oil as Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Whichever type of supplement you choose, look for supplements without added fillers or colors. Most importantly, retest your levels every two or three months to ensure your levels don’t go too high. Too much of a good thing, is not a good thing.
5. Get a little help from your fat-soluble friends
As you work on optimizing your Vitamin D level, studies suggest benefits of including the other fat-soluble vitamins along with it like A, E and especially K2. While each of these vitamins have benefits, with Vitamin A and E being especially helpful for the skin, they also play a role in making vitamin D more bioavailable and keeping levels in check. Getting these vitamins by filling your plate with leafy greens and a rainbow of fruit and veggies is ideal, but you can supplement with them as well.
So what’s the biggest takeaway of this experience: LISTEN TO YOUR BODIES, including those of the ones you love the most. Tune in to the symptoms, signs and signals your body is sending.
That lingering cold, that nagging pain, the persistent sore or rash on the skin. These are all messages your body is sending you and they are invitations to tune in and take a closer look.
Test don’t guess. This doesn’t mean having to spend a boatload on expensive tests unless your healthcare provider feels formal testing is absolutely necessary. Here’s the thing: your kitchen, your medicine cabinet, your bedroom, your mind….your body and your environment are the best test laboratories of all time. These are all of the places you can explore to see if there are things/themes you are regularly using, consuming, ruminating about that are getting in the way of you feeling your best. Try an elimination experiment for 2 to 3 weeks of potential culprits...test your hypothesis, track your progress and act on your results.
Remember, it’s only when you take notice that you can take action.
So what are you going to tune into today?
P.S. Don't forget to check your birthday suit for any uninvited guests. One of the fastest, simplest ways to tune in to what's happening in your body is to check your skin.
P.P.S. This is currently my go-to Vitamin D supplementation. I chose this Liposomal Vitamin D because of it’s fast absorption, ease of use and the kids actually use it. Use the code FIRST15 to get 15% your first purchase here.