Sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is made in our skin upon exposure to sunlight, most Americans do suffer from insufficient amounts of vitamin D, especially in the winter. Insufficient vitamin D is a serious concern. John Jacob Cannell, MD, the founder of the non-profit Vitamin D Council explains, “Current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing seventeen varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects and periodontal disease.” Vitamin D also helps fight bacteria that cause acne.
Skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema also improve with vitamin D creams or UV light therapy. Some skin pickers have keratosis pilaris, tiny bumps most commonly on the backs of the upper arms, which also may improve from vitamin D. As “Lagne” from a CNN blog on keratosis pilaris says, “I’ve been a lifelong KP sufferer. I’ve tried it all – scrubbing, not scrubbing, chemical/manual exfoliators, AHA moisturizers, evvvverything. When I moved to Florida and started spending lots of time in the sun, my KP completely disappeared. It actually made me laugh – years of effort and hundreds of dollars, and all I had to do was get out in the sun. I usually spend a few hours in the sun with a little sunscreen; the benefits last about two months before I feel the bumps start to reoccur.”
How do you know whether you are deficient in vitamin D? One low-tech test: press your fingertips firmly into your sternum (breastbone). If it hurts, you are probably extremely low in vitamin D. There is also a blood test for vitamin D3, so it is a good idea to ask your doctor for it.
It is nearly impossible to get sufficient vitamin D from our food. Milk is typically supplemented with vitamin D2, less beneficial than vitamin D3, and in the amount that only prevents rickets, the acute vitamin D deficiency disease, not enough for the cancer protection and other benefits. (I will soon do a post on why you may want to avoid milk if you have skin problems.) Moderate sun exposure in the summer, 10 to 15 minutes midday (without sunscreen) is a good amount – not enough to turn you pink. However, most of us live at too high a latitude to get any significant amount of sun in the winter, so supplementing is most likely necessary for a few months at least (especially if you tend to experience seasonal depression). Cod liver oil is one good way of supplementing vitamin D. Or take specific vitamin D3 supplements. Liquid or capsule form is best. You will want to take it with food containing fat for best absorption. Since D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is possible to take too much of it. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the bottle and get your blood tested periodically to be sure your D level is in the safe range.
Do you have an experience about vitamin D deficiency and supplementation? Please share in the comments.