Vitamin D Deficiency is “an Ignored Epidemic”
Last week, an article in the British Medical Journal highlighted Vitamin D supplements and how they may help reduce one’s risk of developing acute respiratory infections, particularly among those with vitamin D deficiency. This meta-analysis was also published online. Although the benefit may be small as explained in the review, it represents growing evidence that highlights the importance of having an optimal level of vitamin D in our bodies.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in optimal health and has been identified as one of the indicators that you are optimizing your habits of health. It helps you maintain healthy insulin levels, contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular health, boosts your immune system, contributes to bone health, and may even help to prevent diseases like cancer and type 1 diabetes.
Despite the importance of vitamin D, health experts have spent years warning people that their vitamin D levels are likely too low. One study went as far as to call vitamin D deficiency a “global health problem” and “an ignored epidemic.” Despite our ability to get Vitamin D from sun exposure, 50% of us might not get enough of it.
The consequences of ignoring your need for vitamin D can be dire, but we should also consider Vitamin D an opportunity. Vitamin D has been found to activate 1,000 of the genes found in the human genome. To put that in perspective, there are an estimated 20,000 active genes in the human genome, and one vitamin plays a role in 1,000 of them! The far-reaching nature of vitamin D is why we see it contributing to so many different areas of health. Getting your recommended amount of vitamin D was described in the Dr. A’s Habits of Health, ranging from 400 -1000 IU. These recommended guidelines are currently under review with the new guideline suggesting everyone should now be on the higher end of 800 IU for ages 1-70 and 1000 IU for anyone over 70.
Getting your recommended amount of vitamin D is a straightforward way to improve multiple areas of your health at once. And these are still considered very safe!
How can you start reaping the rewards of vitamin D? Here are some places to start:
- Get more sun! Harvard Medical School suggests that 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week can help you get the vitamin D your body needs. They are quick to note, however, that small changes like cloud cover and pollution can limit vitamin D production, and bigger challenges like a change in seasons or your age could mean that simply getting outside may not be enough to get your recommended amount of vitamin D.
- Because of the challenges of getting enough sun exposure, you should look to your diet to bolster your daily vitamin D needs. For example, fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are high in vitamin D, but the simplest way to reach your dietary need is to eat foods or supplements that have been fortified with extra vitamin D.
- Talk to your physician about vitamin D. Certain health conditions like Crohn’s or celiac disease can complicate your quest for optimal vitamin D levels as can other health factors. Before you make a drastic change in your diet or routine, talk to your physician about your medical history and build a strategy that works best for you.
If you follow these tips, your improvement in vitamin D levels can also help you to improve other Habits of Health, in addition to being a fruitful Habit of Health in its own right. Getting more sun is easy when you’re outside walking regularly. Eating foods high in vitamin D likely means you are eating healthier foods in general, and keeping an open dialog with your physician about your health goals can help ensure your all-around success.
Don’t be a part of the epidemic. Start paying attention to vitamin D today.