What is the big deal about vitamin D?
Vitamin D boosts your immune system and lowers inflammation. Inflammation is what leads to more significant difficulties in fighting Covid. Studies have shown an increased chance of getting Covid with lower than optimal vitamin D levels. Due to its ability to lower inflammation, people with optimal levels are associated with less heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and pneumonia. All excellent things.
Ever notice how the flu is worse in the winter? Many say it is because we are all indoors more. Still, it is also very likely that it increases because our vitamin D levels drop due to lack of sun exposure. Keep reading to understand why this may be the case.
Sunlight is your primary source of vitamin D! Skin absorbs UVB rays and turns them into vitamin D. It is how humans have been getting enough vitamin D since, forever! Vitamin D supplementation is another way of getting enough in your system. Oral supplementation does not stay viably as active for as long as vitamin D obtained from sun exposure, so you must take it regularly. Of note, one cannot reach toxic blood levels of vitamin D from sun exposure alone. You can reach toxic levels from oral supplementation, although you would have to take extremely high doses.
Factors that influence sunlight’s ability to produce vitamin D
1. Angle of the sun – time of year. Living further north or south of 33 degrees latitude will determine how many months of the year you will be able to produce vitamin D. Some cities in this latitude are Atlanta GA, Los Angeles CA, Casablanca Morocco, Baghdad Iraq, Saga Japan, Santiago Chile, Sydney Australia, and Cape Town South Africa. People who live in Boston at 42 degrees latitude can essentially make no vitamin D between the months of November and February. Time of day also plays a significant factor due to the angle of the sun. Virtually no vitamin D can be made before 10am or after 3pm, even in summer. Cities closer to the 33rd latitude typically experience flu outbreaks throughout the year, not just clustered in a few months.
2. Air pollution – the increase in sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone in the atmosphere will absorb a large amount of UVB before it reaches the surface and your skin.
3. Altitude – the closer you are to the sun, the shorter the path the UVB has to travel and typically fewer filters it has to pass through.
4. Glass absorbs all UVB – so no vitamin D can be made even if you sit near a window.
5. Sunscreen use will decrease your ability to make vitamin D because they either absorb or deflect the UVB and UVA rays.
6. Natural skin pigment – the darker your skin, the longer it will take for your skin to produce vitamin D. Melanin acts as a natural sunscreen.
7. Aging – the older we get, the longer it takes for our body to make vitamin D.
Other health benefits of sunlight
The Nobel prize was awarded in 1903 for the discovery of treating tuberculosis patients with “heliotherapy.” Heliotherapy is still used all over the world to treat a variety of illnesses to this day. Sunlight exposure correlates with a reduction of developing some cancers by as much as 60%. And contrary to what sunscreen manufacturers would have us believe, sensible sun exposure to allow our bodies to make vitamin d has many benefits. Such as regulating skin cell growth and reducing the risk of skin cancer! Yes, reducing skin cancer. When we stay in the sun too long and get too much sunlight exposure and burn, we cause damage to our skin and increase our chance of developing skin cancer. While researching this post, I discovered so many benefits to sensible sunlight exposure that I realized I will need to do another post just on the health benefits of sunlight exposure, so stay tuned!
A Little History
During the industrial revolution, when the skies in cities were thick with smoke, children developed alarming rates of rickets, a bone deforming disease caused by low levels of vitamin D. Its cause was unknown at the time, but eventually, scientists figured out the reason and started treating these children with sunlight exposure. It was also recognized that children with rickets had a much higher risk of developing pneumonia and other respiratory infections. They were also more likely to die from them. In the 1930s, manufacturers discovered how to synthesize vitamin D and began adding it to milk. Within a few years, they essentially eradicated rickets! Then like all things, people went overboard and fortified everything with vitamin D – from soda pop to beer, hotdogs, all dairy products, and even soap and shaving cream! But in the 1950s, there was an outbreak of hypercalcemia which is when calcium deposits in the wrong places. It was concluded incorrectly to be caused by too much oral vitamin D ingestion. So the pendulum swung the other way, and everything but milk fortification was stopped. We humans seem to be all or nothing when it comes to supplements, but as with all things, there is a sweet spot, a Goldilocks zone of vitamin D concentration. According to functional medicine doctors, that sweet spot is between 60-80 ng/ml in lab workups. Most labs report normal between 40-60 ng/ml. It is up to you and your doctor to decide what is best for you.
As a society, we lack appreciation for our body’s natural ability to heal and produce what we need to stay healthy. In the case of vitamin D, this has led to a worldwide population where over 50% and some say 75% of us are vitamin D deficient! It’s shocking to think how much better we would have fared if we had all had optimal vitamin D levels at the start of 2020. But now that you know how beneficial it is, you can start to optimize your levels and stay healthier in the long run.
*All of the above information was gathered through this extensive article.
If you would like more in-depth information, I encourage you to check it out.