If like me, you live in the Northern half of the United States, you’re familiar with decreasing sunlight throughout the year.
Here in Western NY from November through March, we get a surprising lack of sunlight.
The sun does in fact come up (unlike up near the Arctic Circle where the Sun won’t rise at all at particular parts of the year), but due to weather patterns, we can go an entire week without direct sunlight.
The biggest question here is… would it even matter if we DID get more sunlight?
So, What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is required for normal human function.
How necessary is it?
According to the Vitamin D Council, this vitamin has been linked to proper functioning of the immune system, muscle function, cardiovascular function, respiratory system, brain development and powerful anti-cancer effects.
It has so many functions throughout the body; some academic sources are considering categorizing it as a hormone rather than a vitamin. Every year more research is conducted demonstrating new ways how Vitamin D helps our body.
Years ago, it was thought that it only helped with bone production. Now it’s become known it even helps with viral resistance.
How is Vitamin D Produced?
The best way to get Vitamin D, is to expose your skin to sunlight. We don’t absorb it from sunlight, but use the energy to convert cholesterol into Vitamin D. Ultraviolet B radiation converts a chemical derivative of cholesterol (7-dehydrocholesterol) into cholecalciferol.
This cholecalciferol is then converted by enzymes in the liver and kidney into its most active form, 1-25 Dihydroxycholecalciferol. (I’ll just call it 1-25 Vitamin D from here on out to avoid that mouthful of a chemical name)
Ingested Vitamin D should be consumed in the form of Vitamin D3, which is the most active and bioavailable (most likely to be used by your body) version. Even this form, only approximately 60% is actually used by the both, the rest is absorbed and digested as an inactive chemical, or passed through the digestive system and excreted.
How Much Sun is Required?
The actual number is rather difficult to state. Every person will have slightly different production rates, depending on skin tone, amount of available cholesterol precursors, how much skin is exposed to the sun, the duration of sun exposure, age, organ function and relative latitude and time of year.
In an ideal situation, the amount of Vitamin D produced by a fair skinned person may be between 10,000 and 25,000 IU in the amount of time for their skin to turn pink (erythema). The duration of the sun exposure is typically 15-30 minutes depending on how light the examined person is. The darker a person’s skin is, the less UVB radiation they will absorb. This will in turn, reduce the amount of Vitamin D produced. Even a fair skinned person can have trouble producing Vitamin D in useful amounts, due to lack of UVB radiation, if they are not outside frequently enough.
The Problem With the Northern States…
For anyone in the Northern part of the USA, we come to a unique point every year; the ever popular time when the sun completely disappears for weeks at a time. “Winter” (casually defined by early November through early March) has a very particular downside, (other than cold and excessive snow fall) the angle of the Earth is such that the UVB radiation from the sun, doesn’t penetrate the atmosphere above 42°N Latitude. As a matter of reference, the city of Boston, Massachusetts is on the 42° parallel.
A study conducted showed that even in full daylight during the winter months, North of 42°N, did not convert any Vitamin D to its active form.
Below 34°N did convert the Vitamin D precursor to its active form. The several states in between 42°N and 34°N have varying levels of 1-25 Vitamin D production.
What Does This Mean?
If you live North of Boston, MA (42° Latitude), you simply don’t produce any 1-25 Vitamin D during the winter, even if you’re outside in a completely sunny day. The only Vitamin D you will get will be from foods you eat.
Another downside, is that most foods have a terribly low about of Vitamin D. According to Nutritiondata.self.com, Cod Liver oil has the highest Vitamin D content, with 2800 IU per ounce. I’m not sure if anyone out there wants to consume 1 ounces of Cod Liver Oil per day, but I certainly don’t. (There is also a potentially dangerous high level of vitamin A contained in that amount of Cod Liver Oil, 28,004IU per ounce).
A depletion of Vitamin D may cause a wide variety of bodily effects, and has been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as its depletion also coincides with the dreaded “flu season”. Winter usually brings about a more sedentary nature in humans. These sedentary habits normally accompany an increase in carbohydrate intake, which further augments the suppression of the immune system. Most refined sugars are pro-inflammatory, and a lack of Vitamin D support will cause the immune system to falter. These two situations will cause the body to be much more susceptible to what seems to be “seasonal” sicknesses.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition many suffer from without knowing. Lower levels of Vitamin D alter the body’s natural ability to produce Serotonin and Dopamine. These two hormones directly influence our self esteem, happiness and ability to handle stress. As stress keeps affecting us more and more (the last quarter of the year has holidays that tend to stress people out more than the rest of the year), lower levels of daylight encourage us to nearly hibernate. The lack of activity causes our personal moods to further deteriorate. As Serotonin and Dopamine concentrations drop due to lack of Vitamin D, the lower levels of these hormones aid in the general feeling of lethargy and low self esteem.
How Much Vitamin D Should We Get?
This entirely depends on how much you still have! A simple blood test can be done to test your levels. A blood draw can be completed and tested for your personal 1-25 Vitamin D levels. If the levels are appropriate, then you simply need to sustain your levels.
If you live south of the 42°N parallel, 15-20 minutes of sunlight per day can help you produce all the Vitamin D you need.
If you live above this level, and its winter, you’ll need to supplement your diet daily. From March to November (the warmer months) sunlight and a healthy diet will give you plenty of Vitamin D.
If your levels are low, you need to supplement your diet with a good quality supplement. Consult with your MD, DC, or Nutritionist for appropriate recommendations.
There are many conditions and diseases that alter Vitamin D levels, as well as many more that benefit from higher than normal levels of Vitamin D. If you are on multiple medications or have a chronic condition, consult with your physician about adding Vitamin D to your regiment.
Can I Take Too Much?
Yes! Vitamin D toxicity is absolutely possible, so don’t not indiscriminately start taking over the counter Vitamin D. Be sure the product is high quality and from a reputable company, or else it’s possible that the pill will pass through you undigested and unabsorbed.
Beyond that, the dosing needs to be appropriate for your body mass and conditions. Heavier individuals may require more per day as well as particular conditions require less per day, so the Vitamin D levels don’t have adverse effects on other organs or medications.
Here at Herrington Family Chiropractic, LLC, I work with a variety of different supplement companies so I can get the best product for my patients. There are a lot of different good quality products available. I can get anything from a liquid to soft capsule to a chewable form. If you like more information or nutritional consultations, please call 716-308-2881 or click here to schedule an appointment.