Live Longer and Get Stronger by Letting the Sun Shine in!
Over the past decade, our understanding of the critical importance of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ or vitamin D3 has been greatly expanded. Once recognized only for its role in preventing rickets and bone disease, vitamin D3 is now known to be one of the most important nutrients in the human body. It’s so important, in fact, that it can literally influence how long you live! Optimizing your vitamin D3 level maybe the single, most important thing you can do to support your health and increase your physical and mental resilience.
From a conservative health perspective, you have a deficiency if your blood serum level of Vitamin D3 is less than 25ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter). However, those who are interested in maximizing their health, performance, and recovery should strive to maintain a level of at least 50ng/ml. The larger the deficiency is and the longer it’s allowed to persist, the greater the risk of promoting or prolonging a debilitating illness or injury. While there are some common symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency, it is important to know that these can vary from one woman to another because the physiological effects of this hormone-like substance are so numerous.
Vitamin D3 deficiency can be broken down into two main categories.
Very low serum levels between 20ng/ml and 40 ng/ml. This is the range that most women find themselves in. The most common symptoms include:
Frequent colds and flus
Depression, lack of motivation
Skin disorders and rashes
Stubborn body fat
Reduced muscular strength and recovery
Poor physical reaction time, balance, and coordination
Extremely deficient levels less than 20ng/ml. Women with vitamin D3 levels in this range will be subject to all of the symptoms listed above plus a high risk of bone-related weakness, immune disorders, and chronic pain.
What causes vitamin D3 deficiency? A lack of consistent exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays. Humans evolved to fulfill their vitamin D needs by producing it in response to exposure to UVB light from the sun. Our modern, indoor lifestyle combined with conditioned sun avoidance (covering up with clothes or using sunscreens due to fear of skin cancer) are the predominant factors influencing the extraordinarily high rate of vitamin D3 deficiency we see in our society today.
In addition, certain members of the population are at an even greater risk for developing a vitamin D3 deficiency due to physiological variables which can include:
Dark skin pigment. The darker your natural (or tanned) skin pigment, the more UVB exposure you need to create the same amount of vitamin D3.
Excessive body fat. Since vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can get trapped in fat making it more difficult for the body to metabolize and use. Ironically, a low vitamin D3 level makes fat loss far more difficult.
Living at a high latitude or in a cold climate. UVB rays are less intense in northern latitudes and colder climates offer far fewer (comfortable) sun-bathing opportunities.
Advanced Age. As we get older, our skin is less responsive to UVB rays.
Breastfeeding. Nursing can result in vitamin D3 deficiency. And when the mother is deficient, the breast-fed child will be deficient due to the low vitamin D3 content of the mother’s milk.
There are only two ways to correct a vitamin D3 deficiency—through sunlight exposure and/or vitamin D3 supplementation. While you can get some vitamin D3 from certain foods, it is virtually impossible to correct a deficiency by modifying your diet.
How can you find out if you’re deficient? The only way to know for sure is to check your level. A simple, at-home assessment (widely available online and in most pharmacies) can tell you exactly how much vitamin D3 your body is actively making.
In addition, it will be important for you to make sure that your body has enough of the necessary vitamin D3 co-factors (nutrients that speed and increase the absorption of other nutrients) it needs. If your body doesn’t have or isn’t getting the proper co-factors, it will not receive all the benefits associated with an increased vitamin D intake. Vitamin D has many co-factors, the most important of which are vitamins K and A, magnesium, and the omega 3 fatty acids.
Most light to medium skin tones can produce an adequate amount of vitamin D3 with just 15 minutes of unprotected, full-body sun exposure two or three times a week during mid-day. Is this a practice you could easily implement for at least a portion of the year? Why or why not? Were you aware of the health benefits associated with (small amounts) of unprotected sun exposure or did this surprise you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.