Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin

Over 40% of American adults are deficient in vitamin D. Are you? You are more likely to be lacking vitamin D if you are elderly, have dark skin, are homebound, or live in an institution like a nursing home.  And if you are deficient in vitamin D, you are more likely to become seriously ill with pneumonia or COVID-19.

We call vitamin D the "Sunshine Vitamin" because our skin generates vitamin D from UVB rays' ultraviolet energy in direct sunlight.

Unfortunately, sun exposure also increases your risk of getting skin cancer. Medical professionals recommend you cover up or use sunscreen when going out into the sun, limiting your ability to get enough daily vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency can also occur from not absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, and E. For example, this can happen after having gastric bypass surgery when taking the weight loss drugs Alli® or Xenical®, or in people with inflammatory bowel disease.

In addition, prescription medicines like prednisone and some anticonvulsants can also impair the absorption of vitamin D.

Vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining the strength of your muscles and bones, with vitamin D deficiency contributing to thinning bones, muscle weakness, and falls. It also boosts your immune response to viral infections. In addition, vitamin D has a calming effect on inflammation of the lungs, especially with pneumonia or exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

To infect you, coronaviruses like SARS and CoV-2 must first attach to a particular protein in your body, called ACE2. Your lungs, heart, kidneys, and blood vessels are full of ACE2, which are attacked by the virus.

Vitamin D prevents coronaviruses from attaching and multiplying inside your body. In addition, vitamin D calms inflammation of the lungs and blood vessels caused by CoV-2 virus, the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

Many people who become severely ill with COVID are seriously deficient in Vitamin D. Several clinical trials using vitamin D are currently in progress to determine if it can prevent COVID-19 infection or reduce its severity.

Most recommendations of supplementation with vitamin D are 800-1000 IU daily. However, some researchers suggest 1000-2000 IU per day of vitamin D is better for people staying home due to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get enough vitamin D from just your diet. The best source is fatty fish such as salmon, canned tuna, and sardines, with about 300 units of vitamin D per 3.5 ounce serving.

The next best dietary source is fortified milk, with 100 units of vitamin D per cup. Milk was fortified in the United States beginning in the 1930s to combat rickets, a deficiency of vitamin D in children causing soft bones and deformed legs.

How do you know if you need a vitamin D supplement? A simple blood test can help determine how much vitamin D is present in your body. A healthy level is 20ng or above. I was found deficient when my vitamin D blood test showed 12ng.

There are multiple forms of vitamin D. Most supplements have either D2 (ergocalciferol) or D3 (cholecalciferol), which are considered equivalent. These are then converted by your body into calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D.

With new evidence that vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of serious illness, I restarted vitamin D with 1000 IU every day. Should you?

Here Are 5 Tips on Getting Enough Vitamin D:

1.  Include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet.

It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from your diet. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, tuna, and salmon. Unfortunately, most foods contain little vitamin D unless they have been fortified. Foods fortified with vitamin D include milk, yogurt, and fortified orange juice.

2.  Consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation and the North American Menopause Society recommend 800 to 1000 IU daily of vitamin D for people aged 50 and older. People who are obese may need 2-3 times that amount.

3.  Consider 1000-2000 IU of D2 or D3 daily.

With 1300 IU in each tablespoon, cod liver oil is the most concentrated vitamin D supplement available. Thankfully, there are less fishy tasting alternatives available!

4.  Avoid taking the weight loss agents Alli® or Xenical®.

The fat-blocking action of these agents interferes with your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamin D.

5.  Get outside.

UVB radiation from sunlight on bare skin produces vitamin D in your body. However, due to the risk of skin cancer, dietary sources and supplemental vitamin D are preferred over sun exposure.

Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy, is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Get clear answers to your medication questions at her website and blog Louise Achey


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