What comes to mind when you read or hear “vitamin D”? If you’re like most people, you probably picture a supplement bottle, maybe even the one that you take on a regular basis. Certainly before I started taking my own deep dive into the world of vitamin D, this was what came to my mind first. However, I have recently started to question some of my formerly-held beliefs surrounding Vitamin D and found myself wondering what form of vitamin D is going to most effectively give my body what it needs.
There has been extensive research behind what we know as Vitamin D in relationship to health. Some common claims are that Vitamin D boosts the immune system and contributes positively to bone health, mental health, dental health, and many other biological functions in the body. But have you asked yourself what “Vitamin D” actually is? It’s actually not even a vitamin at all. Vitamin D is a steroid that functions as a hormone in the body. It was identified as a vitamin and started to become popular when it was discovered early in the 20th century for its ability to cure rickets.
Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D worldwide—our skin is able to utilize sunlight to create vitamin D from just sitting out with your bare skin exposed. Animal products are a primary dietary source of vitamin D3. Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring, etc.) have the highest amounts of Vitamin D3. Other animal products, including eggs, meat, dairy, etc. contain significant but lesser amounts.
The realization that vitamin D is vital for so many essential biological functions has prompted a number of current trends. Research has led to concerns about vitamin D deficiency and its negative impact on overall health, which has increased the use of Vitamin D supplementation. Unfortunately there is still no single consensus on the definition of vitamin D sufficiency or deficiency.
In relation to oral health, Vitamin D does play an important role in maintaining strong, healthy, and resilient teeth. Vitamin D deficiency is thought to increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease in the mouth. Knowing how important this vitamin (hormone) is to our health begs the question—what is the most effective way to ensure that our vitamin D levels remain optimal? Should we be getting vitamin D from supplements, food, light, or a combination of all three?
It’s important to note that this article is NOT medical advice and you should always run your questions by your doctor before implementing anything new that could impact your health. But it is my personal opinion, after doing much research, that it will always be best to obtain our nutrients from natural sources. When it comes to Vitamin D, this means that I will always choose the sun and high quality, nutrient dense animal sources of food before turning to Vitamin D3 supplementation.
Food is relatively easy, simply focus on eating high quality/pastured/wild caught/organic (when possible) fatty fish, eggs, meat and dairy throughout your week. Vary it up as much as possible, get creative in the kitchen, and avoid eating the same foods over and over. This will give your body not only the vitamin D that it needs, but also a variety of other vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health from all kinds of health-promoting foods.
Sunlight is a bit more tricky, and many of us don’t live in an area with sunlight year round. First of all it’s important to note that our bodies are truly amazing and have protective mechanisms in place that maintain balance even in the absence of sunlight for extended periods of time. If you are lucky enough to live where it is warm and sunny year round, make sure to get outside daily without sunscreen and soak up the sunlight. Just make sure to be safe about it and know your skin’s limits to avoid burning.
Because we live in Nebraska, I choose to supplement myself and my family with artificial sources of light that emit UV light during the winter. Our favorite choice is the Sperti Sunlamp. In just 3-5 minutes per day we are able to boost our vitamin D levels throughout the colder months, which helps to keep our health in tip top shape during “cold and flu season”.
Between food and our Sperti Sunlamp, we feel that our needs are sufficiently met without needing to use a supplement in pill form. However, if this type of supplementation feels like the best route for you, it would be wise to talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested and from there deciding on the optimal dose for you. We do choose to supplement with Vitamin K2, which is often the missing link to optimal vitamin D levels. More on that here.
Hopefully we were able to clarify the different ways in which our bodies acquire vitamin D and help you to decide which form(s) are best suited for you and your family. As a reminder, make sure to practice safe sun, know your skin’s limits, and protect yourself from catching too many rays at once.
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