Vitamin D deficiency, why most of us are at risk and how to fix it
In the northern hemisphere, the days are getting longer, with a little more sun every day (at least, that’s what we hope for). A great time to talk about vitamin D! Did you know that many people have a vitamin D deficiency? Some sources even say that 70% of the Dutch population has a D deficiency. This can be a huge risk for your health, which we’ll tell you all about in this blog. For a sufficient level of vitamin D in your body, there are two very important things you need. And it’s exactly those things many of us are avoiding! But not after reading our vitamin D manual, where we will explain to you why we need this micronutrient so much, the mistake we make, how much we actually need and how we can fix it.
WHY VITAMIN D IS ESSENTIAL
Scientists are discovering more and more important functions vitamin D performs in the body. We won’t bore you with a long list, but you need to know that it plays an important role in your muscles and joints, bones and teeth, energy management, emotions and mood, fat metabolism, blood sugar control, hormones, immune system and skin. To name a few!!! You don’t want to underestimate this little vitamin D wonder.
WHY YOU WON’T WANT TO BE VITAMIN D DEFICIENT
Your body can get into serious trouble, being vitamin D deficient. You may have heard of osteoporosis, rickets and osteomalacia, the reason why our parents were forced to consume a dreadful teaspoon of cod liver oil every day ;-). But before one of these serious disorders develops, your immune system has already weakened, with all its consequences. A weak immune system obviously means that you’re very susceptible to infections, viruses, bacteria and fungi. You might have the flu more often than other people, get colds a lot, or maybe you notice a lot of inflammation in your body. But there are also more serious diseases linked to a vitamin D deficiency like an increased risk of cancer, type 1 and 2 diabetes, infections, preterm birth, muscle weakness, depression, schizophrenia, asthma and dental problems. The list is actually even longer, but you get the idea.
WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE DEFICIENT?
One of the causes so many people are vitamin D deficient is the way we live nowadays: most of us are inside all day long (no, artificial light and sunlight through a window won’t do the job). And then, when we have a day off, we carefully protect ourselves against the sun, with layers of sunscreen. But sunlight is such an important source of vitamin D. I hear you think: skin cancer! But humans have spent their lives outdoors in the sunlight for millions of years, without problems. Dorien and I are no doctors, nor did we do any scientific research on this ourselves. But research shows that a bigger risk of getting skin cancer is eating and drinking processed foods and trans fats and living in a toxic environment. To make things even worse; some sunscreens we put on, contain chemicals which have been proven to cause skin cancer.
Another thing you need for sufficient levels of vitamin D is something many of us are avoiding as well: fats! In our course Reset Your Diet right now only available only in Dutch, unfortunately) we teach you all about the right fats. But did you know that vitamin D is made from cholesterol in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight? It’s important to know that vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins; low-fat diets in general lead to a deficiency of those vitamins.
No wonder there is such a vitamin D deficiency epidemic in the Western World, since many people are avoiding the biggest sources. Let’s stop that right now!
Other causes of a deficiency can be poor absorption via the intestines, or because people use medicines inhibiting the absorption. Unfortunately, when you get older (men over 70, women over 50), you are less able to make vitamin D yourselves. Also, pregnant woman and kids (up to 4 years old, also babies) can be deficient because they need a lot. People with darker skin get less vitamin D conversion through sunlight, so they need to be careful also. Oh, and if you wash your skin a lot with soap, you can lose the precursors of vitamin D (which can be converted into vitamin D under the influence of ultraviolet light) as well.
HOW MUCH DO WE NEED
If you search for numbers on Google, you’ll find that the recommended amount of vitamin D is 10-20 mcg. However, some studies recommend a higher daily intake of 25-100 mcg, which many health practitioners keep as a guideline. It is almost impossible to achieve this without supplements, as you will find out in a minute.
Good to know though, supplementation with vitamin D is safer than we initially thought. A Dutch expert on this matter, Dr. Gert Schuitemaker, advises supplementing with 50 mcg of vitamin D per day. When you’re outside a lot and it’s very sunny, 5-25 mcg will do.
If you’re like us and your days are jam-packed, it is impossible to calculate and measure everything you eat and drink. If you have a shortage, or if you don’t have a clue about your intake, it might be wise to find out what your intake is. Otherwise, you just have to do what we say! Of course we’re joking, but we hope our advice below is useful.
HOW TO FIX A VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY?
First of all: enjoy the sun! Make sure you get some sunshine every day. Even in cold weather, we produce vitamin D. In the Netherlands not so much though. But if you get outside (hands and head exposed) for 15-30 minutes, between 11:00 and 15:00 every day, you receive 7 mcg/day (10 if the weather is amazing). So that’s a good start. Of course, this does not apply if you protect your skin with sunscreen, a hat and gloves.
To give you an example: exposing your entire body to the sun on a sunny beach day, just until the moment your skin becomes red (and you need to get out of the sun asap), yields about 250 to 500 mcg vitamin D. If you have a darker skin, you need more sun hours for the same amount of vitamin D. But for everyone, sunburn is bad. Normally, when you are in the sun, your skin starts producing pigment and turns brown. When the skin turns red, it’s burned, and that’s when there is a risk for, for example, skin cancer. So yes you need to be careful, but find the balance! Know that you need some exposure to the sun for your vitamin D intake!
Aim for 15-30 minutes per day, in summertime that is. In wintertime, we need to pay particular attention to our diet, making sure we consume plenty of foods with a good amount of this vitamin.
So, which foods? When we look at traditional diets of people around the world, the further from the equator they live, the more people consume fatty fish, fish livers and polar animal livers, particularly in the winter. So if we take that into consideration, what can we do?
Vitamin D occurs predominantly in fatty fish, liver oils (especially cod), with lower levels in meat, egg (yolk), and dairy products. Cod liver oil contains around 210 mcg/100g, after that comes egg yolk, containing 5 mcg/100g. If you go with the bare minimum of 10 mcg of vitamin D, you will have to eat 200g of egg yolks per day! Butter provides not even 1 mcg/100g, so you would have to consume a kilogram of butter to get to the daily recommended amount of vitamin D.
For many people, these sources are problematic. Finding affordable fish, which is not polluted and without destroying the ocean, is hardly impossible. Another problem is that many people cannot tolerate dairy products very well, so that eliminates another source. And if you’re vegan, we hear you. We admire you and definitely keep on reading!
Honestly, it may be wise to supplement with vitamin D. You can buy vitamin D2, and D3. Often it’s thought that vitamin D2 is less effective than vitamin D3, because it seems to be easier to absorb and you can reach a level of toxicity with D2. But the levels in your blood (which you can measure), remain high for a longer period of time with vitamin D2. We use D3 though and this is the one I’m using right now, from Premier Research Lab. If you’re vegan and want to supplement D3, Suntrex has the solution for you, produced by extracting oil from lichens. It’s wise to measure your D levels (see below) and discuss the amount you should supplement with a health practitioner. But if you are not able to do this, go for an extra intake of 25-50 mcg per day.
For the perfect balance A, D and fats, of course, there is cod liver oil. We like Nordic Naturals and Arctic Blue. We know that there have been concerns about the amount of vitamin A cod liver oil contains because an excess of vitamin A can become toxic for the body. But mother nature designed it this way, and your body knows how to deal with it. Vitamin A and D work together and need fat to do their job. It’s all there, in cod liver oil!
Measure to know for sure
So if you’re in one of those groups who are at risk of a deficiency or when you’re vegan, it might be smart to measure your D levels with your GP every now and then. Again, there is (as it seems, with everything in the food industry) a lot of discussion about the optimal vitamin D value in the blood. Many Dutch laboratories currently have a target value of 50-150 nmol/l with an optimum of 75-80 nmol/l. Vitamin D experts aim for a higher value for high-risk groups, such as people with (an increased risk of) cancer, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases. Their level should be between 100-150 nmol/l. Do you want to test it yourself? You can by ordering a test kit here.
That’s it! You now know everything. You know why D is essential for your health, the reasons you don’t want to be deficient, but also why so many people are. You know how much we need, and how to make sure we reach these levels. There is one more thing we want to say: a vitamin D deficiency has, as we explained in the first paragraph, many consequences, amongst others for your metabolism. If that’s the case with you, we have something for you. Right now, we’re working REALLY hard on a new program, Reset Your Health. It’s all about your gut, about metabolism, about the basis of feeling good and healthy. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when we launch, and of course for a special deal.
How do you keep your D levels up to date? Let us know in the comments below!
Dr. Gert Schuitemaker – Nieuw licht op vitamine D en chronische ziekten
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride – Gut and Psychology Syndrome
Natuur Diëtisten Nederland