In this article, I’m discussing the optimal vitamin D levels you should be aiming for, how to identify the common vitamin D deficiency symptoms, and the best vitamin D rich foods that can improve your vitamin D levels naturally.
Have you ever been told you have low levels of vitamin D on a blood test? Chances are you probably have at some point in your life. Whether you know what vitamin D is good for or not, it’s likely that you’ve heard a few about this vitamin as it relates to your health. Today I’m diving into why we need to improve our vitamin D levels and how to do it!
I prefer to refer to vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin because, as you may have guessed, the sun provides us with ample amounts of vitamin D! Plus, there is nothing quite like soaking up sun rays for optimal energy and function. With that being said, vitamin D is often difficult to absorb, even when you spend hours outside.
COMMON CAUSES OF A VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Vitamin D is actually the number one vitamin deficiency is common in those who are struggling with GI disorders and/or autoimmune conditions. Due to difficult absorption, high stress levels, lack of sunlight, and highly processed diets, vitamin D deficiency is a global issue for both adults and children. As of April 2020, a staggering one billion people, worldwide, are deficient. This nutrient deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, like autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and more.
Common causes of vitamin deficiency, include:
Certain medications, like laxatives, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and steroids
Autoimmunity, like Celiac or Crohn’s disease
Liver or kidney disease
Diet high in sugar and processed foods
Poor gut health
MALABSORPTION OF VITAMIN D
There are many factors that play a role in vitamin D absorption such as stress, diet, and medication use. Having poor gut health and intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” though, is the number ONE contributor that I see relating to low levels of vitamin D on a blood test due to malabsorption. When the gut lining is compromised due to GI conditions, vitamins and minerals are less likely to get into our cells and distribute to the places in our body that require these nutrients. It’s no wonder vitamin D deficiency is such a prevailing concern in today’s world!
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS
Frequent symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency, includes:
If you struggle with autoimmunity or gut health issues specifically, I recommend asking your healthcare practitioner to check your vitamin D levels. Proper vitamin D stores are key to healing your body and promoting health from the inside-out!
OPTIMAL VITAMIN D LEVELS
In the Western medical world, it is usually recommended to achieve vitamin D levels of 40-50ng/mL. However, while that might be enough vitamin D to survive, it’s not enough to thrive. Vitamin D serum levels are needed between 40 and 60 nanograms/milliliter (100-150 nanomoles/liter) for disease prevention. Even though most people average way below this number, it is possible to accomplish with strategic dietary, lifestyle, and supplement changes! This is why I recommend asking your healthcare practitioner to monitor your levels of vitamin D on a blood test often if you struggle with an autoimmune condition or gut health issues specifically.
WHAT FORM AND HOW MUCH TO TAKE
STEP 2 – Determine your target level. Are you at your target level? Experts recommend a level of at least 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 nmol/L).
STEP 3 – Take enough to achieve your desired level (use this calculator to determine how much you need to be getting daily). Cholecalciferol, also known as Vitamin D3 can be found as a supplement. (Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for more details.)
STEP 4 – Re-Test! This is an important step to make sure you have reached your target level, and to ensure you are not taking too much! Re-testing after 3-4 months is recommended.
STEP 5 – Adjust, Repeat…
WHY VITAMIN D IS SO IMPORTANT
Despite being so commonly deficient, vitamin D serves a significant purpose in our bodies. In fact, proper vitamin D stores are essential for optimal health, in more ways than one.
Vitamin D is responsible for:
Growing and maintaining healthy bones
Regulating optimal calcium absorption
Supporting proper immune function
Producing and balancing hormones
Regulating blood sugar levels
As you can clearly see, achieving proper vitamin D levels are non-negotiable! This is why I recommend asking your healthcare practitioner to test your levels of vitamin D on a blood test a few times each year if you struggle with an autoimmune condition or gut health issues specifically.
TOP VITAMIN D SOURCES
So, how can you ensure your vitamin D levels are optimal? First, test, don’t guess so you know where you are at. Too much of a good thing is not always good! Since the sunshine vitamin is essential for optimal health, it’s important to discuss the best ways to naturally support your body’s levels. Below are my favorite ways to encourage healthy vitamin D levels:
Vitamin D-Rich Foods: Consuming vitamin-D rich foods, throughout the whole year, is the first place to start. Vitamin D-rich foods include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Other food sources are eggs, mushrooms, and dark, leafy greens. You get bonus points for consuming dark, leafy greens as they contain MK7 (menaquinone), which helps your body absorb vitamin D.
Healthy Fats: Increase your healthy fat intake to boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. Include healthy fats in every meal. Take your pick from: fatty fish, dark meat chicken, ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, coconut, and more. Oleic acid, specifically, is effective in skin repair, while omega-3’s reduce inflammation.
Morning Sunlight: To optimize your vitamin D exposure, aim to get outside for a minimum of 30 minutes in the morning. Exposing your eyes to sunlight first thing in the morning can help regulate your circadian rhythm and ensure quality sleep! In addition to morning sun, make it a goal to eat lunch outside to soak up some extra sun rays!
Safety always comes first, so when in the sun, make sure to protect yourself. Use sunscreen on the sensitive areas of your body, such as your chest, face and ears. Look for non-toxic sunscreen options, SunBum, GoddessGarden, COOLA, and juice Beauty.
I suggest checking out the EWG Skin Care Guide for the least toxic sunscreen options. SPF 30+ is best. If you like to tan, opt for a non-toxic, safe browning lotion, such as natural brands from the Detox Market or well.ca skincare. Also, wear a hat to prevent wrinkles, especially on the face.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
Without a doubt, vitamin D is an essential nutrient. It promotes optimal cardiovascular, skin and bone health, while also boosting mood, supporting immune function, and so much more.
Remember to TEST (don’t guess), monitor, and consider proper supplementation if you’re still low after sunlight and dietary modifications. And of course, work with someone qualified to help you get to the root cause of WHY vitamin D is so low to begin with, especially if you have a gut and/or autoimmune condition.
When you have a healthy gut, you absorb your nutrients more efficiently. It really is that simple! If you are looking for a practitioner who can help you heal your gut so that you can improve key levels in your body, and help you reverse autoimmunity, check out how my advanced 1:1 coaching program can help you with the proper functional medicine testing and coaching!
What tip will you try this week to naturally improve your vitamin D levels? I would love to know in the comments below!
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