Vitamin D has become a passion project of mine. It’s long been recognized as vital for health, but now more than ever it is proving to be a standout vitamin, particularly when it comes to the immune system and respiratory health (not naming any names, of course).
In our house, we talk a lot about Vitamin D. We get our levels tested. We also did a campaign last winter to raise awareness about the critical need for it. Of course, we regularly reach out to our government representatives to ask for subsidized Vitamin D testing and distribution programs, especially for high-risk and vulnerable populations in our community. (I’ve been so incessant about the last thing that I’m pretty sure my emails are now immediately deleted by health officials. You can grab a copy of my letter and send your own here.)
We are currently dealing with a global health crisis that has drastically impacted our collective physical wellbeing, resilience, food security and mental health, as well as the economy and the safety of marginalized communities. This is something we’ve coped with for a long time now and will likely continue to be at the forefront of our lives in the months and years to come.
There are no easy, simple, quick-fix solutions here. But I do want to put a spotlight on Vitamin D today and how this low-cost intervention can greatly benefit our overall health.
why is vitamin d important for health?
There has been a great deal of research on Vitamin D’s impact on immunity in the last few decades. Research shows that it supports both the innate immune system (the one we’re born with) and the adaptive immune system (the immunity we learn). It can have an anti-viral effect on respiratory tract infections.
Other benefits include:
- Keeping our bones and teeth strong and helping us absorb the calcium in our food
- Nourishing our brain, reducing the risk of depression and seasonal affective disorder
- Supporting hormone balance and the endocrine system
- Can lower the risk of heart disease and hypertension
- Can reduce the risk of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases
- Aiding with insulin regulation and may help to prevent diabetes
We are currently in the midst of a pandemic, and there are multiple and complicated root causes as to who contracts the virus and how it appears – those who have complications and long-term health challenges and those who have barely a sore throat and are then right as rain.
What we do know at this point is Vitamin D deficiency is common throughout the world. The numbers vary depending on where you live, the season and the colour of your skin (people with darker skin tones need longer sun exposure to make Vitamin D and are more likely to be deficient).
You can view a worldwide map of deficiency rates among people of all ages if you’re interested in all the numbers.
For more information and research studies relating directly to Vitamin D and the current global health crisis, I highly recommend visiting The Vitamin D Hub. My husband and I began this website early in 2021 and update it with the latest studies as they are available.
how do I know if I’m vitamin d deficient?
Some signs you may be low in this vitamin include:
- bone diseases, such as rickets in children and osteomalacia, osteopenia or osteoporosis in adults
- muscle weakness
- muscle cramping
As you can imagine, many of the above symptoms could be indicative of a variety of conditions – so your best bet to know for sure is to get tested (more on that further below).
best food sources of vitamin d
Some foods that contain Vitamin D are:
- eggs (particularly the yolk)
You would have to eat quite a lot of these foods to get a therapeutic dose you’d receive from a supplement.
best sources of vitamin d in nature
Our best natural source is the sun! When your skin is exposed to UVB rays, this prompts your body to produce Vitamin D. It can be trickier to get enough from the sun during the winter months when there are fewer hours of sunlight (especially if you’re in a very Northern part of the world).
It’s also more challenging to receive the effects of sunshine when we slather ourselves with sunscreens all the time (learn more about safe sun protection and how to glean Vitamin D from the sun here).
vitamin d supplement options
D supplements are easy to find at most drugstores, health food stores and even some grocery stores. It’s inexpensive and very easy to take (most are in liquid form).
Ensuring Optimal levels: vitamin d testing
Many doctors assume that most people are going to be Vitamin D deficient, especially if you live in the Northern parts of the world (this is the situation where I am in Canada). If your doctor doesn’t feel testing is necessary, and you can’t change their minds, there are home kits you can purchase.
It would be nice if Vitamin D testing was standard and free, but knowing your D level is important and in my opinion, tests are a worthwhile purchase.
If you’re in the United States, Let’s Get Checked has a Vitamin D test.
For Canadians, try Grassroots Health.
Testing is helpful every 6 to 12 months to stay on top of what your levels are.
benefits of supplementation for the general public
Of course, it’s important to check with your healthcare practitioner about whether or not Vitamin D supplementation is right for you. But in my view, supplementation is:
- low risk
- low cost
- easily available
Vitamin D deficiency can elevate your risk for certain diseases such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as common respiratory infections such as colds and flus.
In fact, my husband Josh Gitalis and I felt so strongly about the beneficial effects of Vitamin D that in January 2021, we hit the streets of Toronto to give away Vitamin D for free, especially to those in low-income areas of our city that are at higher risk of the pandemic. You can see more about our efforts below. And if you’d like to learn more, grab sample social media copy to spread the word as well as sample letters you can use to write to your local government, visit The Vitamin D Hub.
WHY SOME SAY VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS SHOULD BE AVOIDED
Supplementing with Vitamin D is not without its controversy. Some experts say high doses of it has some dangers for the population, and may actually suppress the immune system and prevent it from developing an immune response to pathogens. Excess Vitamin D may also contribute to heart calcification.
It’s always best if you can get Vitamin D from food and safe sun exposure, and as with any supplement, it’s important to work with a health practitioner to create a customized protocol for your unique needs.
Ultimately there is no perfect solution for every human on the planet. There is, however, sufficient evidence that for many people who may not have access to optimal nutrition, Vitamin D could be a simple and easily accessible solution that helps with some of the most common ailments affecting today’s population.
Photo and video by Walker Jordan