Patients frequently ask me which vitamin is the most important to take. As a firm believer in individualized medicine, I often suggest testing for nutrient deficiencies, and replacing those that need a boost. However, if I were stranded on a cloud-covered desert island, I would want a bottle of vitamin D. For reasons under investigation, vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common. Some causes may be overavoidance of the sun and overuse of sunscreen, nutrient-deficient crops, and/or poor digestive and absorptive ability from gut dysbiosis. Also, unlike many other vitamins, D is difficult to obtain from food. The few food sources of vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, herring, and cod liver oil.
According to an article published by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a pandemic, which is why there’s been a recent boom in diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency—osteoporosis, several types of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, poor immune function, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, gout, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis—to name a few.
Because of its many health indications, vitamin D is an important supplement. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly correlated with inflammation, which is the precursor to chronic diseases. Experts are not sure whether vitamin D deficiency causes chronic disease or if chronic disease causes vitamin D deficiency. Either way, vitamin D supplementation is vital to treating the underlying causes of, and preventing, disease.
- Test your D levels. Very few doctors routinely test for vitamin D deficiency. Take charge of your own health, and ask your doctor to run a test called 25-hydroxy-vitamin D. It’s a simple blood test with enormous significance.
- Take a vitamin D supplement. Based on the result of your vitamin D blood test, take a daily vitamin D3 supplement (D3 is the active form of the vitamin). Doctors have varying opinions on the ideal vitamin D blood level and supplement dosage. I have found that daily supplements between 5,000 and 10,000 IU result in optimal blood levels; however, this all depends on a person’s digestive health and medical history. It’s always best to work with a doctor. On a side note, vitamin D toxicity is extremely rare. Regardless, it’s best to get vitamin D levels checked every 3 months when taking a supplement.
- Take a sun bath. Believe it or not, it’s helpful to expose yourself to the sun sans sunscreen for 20 to 30 minutes as many days of the week as possible (it’s even better if you can expose your arms and legs). Skin is the major natural source of vitamin D, and dermal synthesis of vitamin D from cholesterol relies on UVB radiation. Remember, as always, moderation is key, and overexposure to the sun can predispose you to skin cancer.