Vitamin D is a unique vitamin that is synthesized by our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact, that’s where it gets the nickname, “the sunshine vitamin”. While we are theoretically able to get most of the vitamin D we need through sunlight, the reality is that for many of us, we don’t get enough. In fact, it is estimated that 88% of people globally have suboptimal vitamin D levels.
There are several different reasons some people don’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. One of the biggest reasons has to do with seasonal changes. During the winter months of the year, those that live in the northern parts of the world, above the 37th parallel (anything north of Los Angeles CA, Arizona, Oklahoma, and North Carolina, along with most of Europe and half of China) do not get sufficient vitamin D from the sun because it is lower in the sky. This means they must get their daily vitamin D from other sources like food or supplements. Other factors that limit the body’s ability to make vitamin D from UV rays include limited time outdoors, using sunscreen, and wearing clothing that covers all or most of the skin. While spending more time in the sun without sunscreen or long sleeves can increase your vitamin D levels, it also increases your risk of getting a sunburn or skin damage. That’s why one of the easiest ways to get your vitamin D is from supplements.
Vitamin D has several different health benefits. A big one is that it supportsbone health. Vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium we get from our diet (or supplements). When we don’t have enough vitamin D, our calcium absorption suffers. That, in turn, could lead the body to start taking calcium from the places that use it for long term health (like our bones) so that it can use it for short-term survival (like sending signals in our nervous system so that our muscles function properly). That leaves the bones vulnerable to damage in the long run.
Vitamin D also helps support skin health and immune health. Our skin is the outside barrier that separates our body from the rest of the world. It not only helps to fight against water loss, but it also acts as a first line of immune defense against harmful microorganisms from getting directly into our body. We are constantly making new skin cells and as they reach the surface, they are sloughed off in a process sometimes called cell turnover. Vitamin D plays an important role in the proliferation and differentiation of skin cells. This means that it helps to make sure that skin cells are made at the right rate and that they differentiate into the right kinds of skin cells
With vitamin D playing such an essential role inside the body, it’s important to make sure we are getting enough. The RDI (Reference Daily Intake) recommended by the US FDA is 20 mcg (800 IU) per day for adults and children over 4 years old. To give an idea of how much that is, a cup of fortified milk provides around 3 mcg of vitamin D, and certain kinds of fish like salmon or trout provide about 15 mcg.
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