Did you know that Vitamin D is actually a hormone rather than a vitamin? It’s true. Vitamin D acts like a hormone in your body, although we still call it a vitamin.
This important “vitamin” interacts with all your sex hormones, plays a role in building healthy bones and teeth, and is vital for optimal functioning of your immune system!
We all know that keeping your immune system as strong as possible is more important than ever! With COVID wrecking havoc on the world, keeping your body in tip-top shape (especially on a cellular level) is one of the most crucial things you can do..
Ensuring that your immune system is working optimally can reduce your chances of serious complications if you contract the virus. Not to mention, a robust immune system can make for a quicker recovery and help you avoid long-haul COVID symptoms. So can Vitamin D be the key to boosting your immune system and keeping you healthy? Let’s find out…
Role of Vitamin D in the Body
Vitamin D plays numerous vital roles in your body, impacting your heart health, brain health, nervous system, and immune system. In fact, there are Vitamin D receptors on almost every cell in your body! So it stands to be that Vitamin D is one of the most essential vitamins/hormones you can take.
Vitamin D and Your Immune System
This important hormone boosts your immune system and eases inflammation. However, if your vitamin D levels happen to be low, studies show that you are more susceptible to risks of influenza and respiratory tract infections.
However, studies also show that when your levels are adequate, Vitamin D is shown to have direct antiviral effects, primarily against certain viruses, called enveloped viruses. And guess what? The coronavirus is an enveloped virus!
In fact, based on a systematic review of 9 studies, 77.8% showed that COVID-19 infection, prognosis, and mortality were correlated with vitamin D status. The lower the vitamin D levels, the higher the rate of infection and severity of infection.
So in theory, ensuring your vitamin D levels are optimal is something you can control to heighten protection against the virus’ complications.
What Causes Low Vitamin D Levels?
Inadequate Intake in Your Diet and Limited Exposure to Sunlight
Low vitamin D levels can result from insufficient exposure to sunlight, inefficient production in the skin, not enough vitamin D in your diet, and certain health conditions. With people staying indoors more often because of colder weather in certain states and the fear of contracting COVID, individuals are even more at risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
So, how exactly does sunlight increase Vitamin D levels? Well, Vitamin D3 is a prohormone that is created in your skin when sunlight hits a particular chemical compound (7-dehydrocholesterol, to be exact). This compound isn’t in a usable form and must be metabolized in your liver and then in your kidneys before it can function as the active Vitamin D form that is beneficial to your health. So, if you want more vitamin D, soak in some rays!
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it is absorbed with fats. However, suppose you have an unhealthy gut because of an unbalanced microbiome or dysbiosis. In that case, you’re probably not absorbing enough Vitamin D. This is particularly true in our society as nearly 60-70 million Americans suffer from some kind of digestive disease.
What Are Symptoms of Low Vitamin D?
A Vitamin D deficiency can be hard to catch, but noticing the signs can help you start a discussion with your healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. So what kind of symptoms might somebody have who has low Vitamin D?
Common Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms:
(Keep in mind every person is different, so your symptoms may manifest differently than someone else)
- Frequent sickness/ infections (catching every cold you come in contact with)
- Feeling run down
- Muscle cramps and bone pain (even a bone scan indicating weakened bones could be an indicator) an immune system that isn’t working properly
- Mood changes
- Anxiety and depression
- Slow wound healing
As an Integrative and Functional Medicine physician, these are clues that suggest a potential underlying Vitamin D deficiency is occurring. The first thing we do is to actually test your levels. This way, we know exactly where you’re at and what we need to support your body.
Testing Your Vitamin D Levels
With Vitamin D involved with so many systems and functions within our bodies, it is important to get your levels checked routinely. This is something that can be done at your primary care doctor’s office, but keep in mind that not all tests are the same and are analyzed the same.
At Integrative Medicine Arizona, we often test for vitamin deficiencies to address patients’ symptoms they are struggling with and to keep patients’ health optimal once the symptoms have been addressed.
Remember, we want you to remain healthy even after your symptoms are fixed. If we notice your vitamin levels are getting low again, we want to address that imbalance before it manifests into something more serious.
As a Functional and Integrative Medicine practice, we are looking for optimal levels up to the 60-80 range. These levels are ideal for most of our patients deficient in Vitamin D.
How to Increase Your Vitamin D
Now that you know the importance of having proper levels of Vitamin D, you may be wondering what you can do to boost your vitamin D levels. So, what are some of the best sources of Vitamin D?
Spend Time in the Sunshine
As you can guess, the sun is your best friend when it comes to getting some high-quality Vitamin D. Getting sunlight every day, especially on your torso, arms, and legs, is a great way.
The best amount is about 10-15 minutes a day when the sun isn’t too hot. As always, we want you to be careful in the sun and protect yourself from skin cancer. But it is essential to get out in the sun to get proper Vitamin D levels. Remember, it’s all about balance!
Increase Your Vitamin D Through Your Diet
Another great source of Vitamin D is through food. You can get Vitamin D from:
- Dairy sources including milk, cheese, and yogurts**
*For those of you who are lactose intolerant, we recommend almond milk. Please be cautious about almond milks. It’s important that if you are using nut milks or rice milk, make sure it’s fortified with Vitamin D and calcium.