The benefits of vitamin D are all the buzz these days. And with good reason.
What is Vitamin D? Why does it matter?
Despite the name, vitamin D is actual not a vitamin. It’s a secesteroid which is a hormonal precursor.
There are many benefits of Vitamin D – and it is specifically necessary for proper mineral absorption and metabolism. The list of “issues” linked to vitamin D deficiency is pretty hefty:
- Cavities and tooth decay
- Bone loss and bone fractures
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Multiple Sclerosis
- High Blood Pressure
- And more
The Benefits of Vitamin D include things like:
- Maintaining healthy bones and teeth
- Supporting the immune system
- Supporting the brain and nervous system
- Regulating insulin levels
- Supporting lung function and cardiovascular health
- Supporting testosterone levels (normal testosterone levels are important for women as well as men).
- And more (x)
My Experience with Vitamin D
As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I’ve struggled with seasons of insomnia for quite some time. About five years ago when I was at an all time BAD for my sleepless nights (we’re talking I couldn’t fall asleep until 4 in the morning, even when I went to bed before 10), I finally made a trip to my doctor/homeopathic practitioner (um, don’t wait that long, okay?). They did all sorts of blood work, and I thought I was dealing with adrenal or thyroid issues. But when my work came back everything looked good except my vitamin D levels.
They were LOW. Really low.
This was actually surprising to me as I was diligent about taking my cod liver oil. But then again, I know I don’t get a lot of sunshine (at least the right kind of sunshine). So, according to my health practitioner’s advice, I upped my vitamin D levels through supplementation a lot. (I’m not going to say numbers here as you should talk to your own healthcare practitioner.) Low and behold I was finally able to get some sleep! And this was after months and months of trying EVERYTHING.
So yeah, I’m a fan and believer of the benefits of vitamin D.
Are you getting enough Vitamin D?
There’s a good chance you’re not! The Centers for Disease Control reports that the percentage of adults who get a “sufficient” amount of vitamin D is about 30% in white populations and about 5 – 10% for African Americans. And many experts believe that the optimal level of vitamin D is much higher than what the CDC puts forth.
How do you get Vitamin D? Hello, sunshine.
I think at this point, the fact that sunlight and nature are good for your health are common knowledge. But for the sake of learning, and for the sake of knowing more about what our bodies need, let’s dive into the topic a bit further.
There are two different kinds of UV rays we get from the sun.
UVA rays: Ultraviolet A rays, the long wave rays. They are always present when there is sunlight. Rain or shine, Summer or Winter, Nordic or Mediterranean. They are ever-present and ever-strong. They penetrate glass, clouds, and even some clothes. They also penetrate deepest into your skin, damaging more than just the surface skin cells. These are the rays that have the potential to alter skin cell DNA and cause melanoma. Those who don’t like skin spots, melanoma, or leathery old skin probably wouldn’t like UVA rays.
UVB rays: Ultraviolet B rays, the short wave rays. They, unlike UVA rays, aren’t always as readily available. They change in prevalence depending on the time of day, the season, and distance from the equator. UVB rays also aren’t as strong and so they don’t penetrate glass and are blocked by sunscreen, unlike UVA rays. These are the rays that, in large doses, cause sunburn. However, these are also the only rays that provide Vitamin D3 by interacting with cholesterol on the skin, which triggers a process where the kidneys and liver produce the pre-hormone secesteroid Vitamin D. (x)
Did you say Vitamin D?
Yes! It’s the sun’s biggest claim to fame.
But here’s the important part: We only get Vitamin D from the UVB rays of the sun.
Meaning, that not all sunlight exposure will guarantee Vitamin D absorption!
Is there anything else sunlight has to offer besides Vitamin D?
Of course, there is!
While the sun gets a lot of press about providing beneficial vitamin D, there are other reasons to yearn for sunlight.
1. The Sun is the Ultimate Anti-Depressant
Have you ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Seasonal depression basically entails depression and all that come with it (gloomy mood, low energy, no motivation, etc.) during the times with little sunlight, like winter. Many people who suffer from SAD, other depressive disorders, or even skin problems like psoriasis as a result of low sunlight levels find they need light therapy.
Light therapy often involves a big white or blue light an individual will expose themselves to as they wake up in the morning to mimic sunlight. If you are in an area where you have real natural sunlight readily available most of the day, the best way is to, as soon as you wake up, open a window or go outdoors. Expose yourself to sunlight!
Sunlight overall enhances mood and energy as a result of the release of endorphins.
2. The Sun Regulates Circadian Rhythms for Better Sleep and Better Energy
Your pituitary gland produces melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone. When the hypothalamus in your brain recognizes that there is no natural sunlight, it commands the pituitary gland to release melatonin. When your body produces melatonin at irregular times, it can alter your circadian rhythm, your biological clock.
You know how you seem more productive at certain times of the day? That’s because you are.
Your circadian rhythm often affects when you are most alert, have best coordination and reaction time, and when biological functions like blood pressure and body temperature change.
A regular circadian rhythm is a healthy circadian rhythm, and because it is directly linked with melatonin production, which is directly linked with the light-dark cycle you experience every day if your sunlight exposure starts early in the morning and ends before you go to sleep, you should get better sleep at night.
But be careful: the body doesn’t differentiate natural sunlight and artificial blue light! If you have screens or blue lights on as you’re getting sleepy, it can have a negative effect on melatonin production. This is also why light therapy is effective.
3. Skin Problems
UVB exposure enhances the rate of growth of new skin cells and the shedding of old skin cells, which in turn, makes it a viable treatment for psoriasis. Vitamin D in the body also helps reduce inflammation in the body – just another benefit of Vitamin D. (x)
4. Heart Health and Blood Pressure
The chemical nitric oxide acts on blood vessels to reduce blood pressure. (x) Sunlight triggers nitric oxide in your skin to go into your blood circulation, and low blood pressure means lower risk of heart attack and stroke. (x)
Here I am, finally saying it. After an adolescence of staying indoors and avoiding sunburn and activity, I can finally admit it:
Sunlight is good for your health!
But one of the main benefits is elsewhere. It’s more than the many biological health effects. It’s a feeling of connectedness with nature. In my experience, going outside in the sunlight is always grounding and calming. It lifts me up and brings me to reality.
It’s all connected, folks.
The benefits of vitamin D may be enough to motivate you back into the sunshine, but the sun provides so much more than just vitamin D.
What is the takeaway?
Stop focusing on any single nutrient. Whether you’re looking at the benefits of vitamin D, the benefits of earthing, or some other health trend. Do what makes you feel good. Any kid who walks outside on a beautiful day isn’t thinking, “Boy! I’m so glad I’m reaping the benefits of vitamin D with this daily dose of sunshine.” No way! He’s thinking what a beautiful day it is to go climb, move, and be alive.
Health is connected. Nature is connected. We are connected. If you want to see the real benefits of vitamin D, E, or whatever… start living a life that respects the connections of your body. Listen and love it.