How vitamin D affects your happiness is important for mood, immune system and overall health.
Why is Vitamin D important:
The reason I chose vitamin D for our first vitamin to deep dive into was because it’s the perfect time of year to learn about it. Right now, COVID cases are on the rise (1, 2, 3, 4) and immune systems are top of mind in many people and it’s also wintertime when people are most susceptible to seasonal depression. There are correlations between winter time and lowered vitamin D (5). I was surprised to find out that up to 42% of adults in the US have vitamin D deficiencies (6). Those with vitamin D deficiencies are more prone to depression, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and in some cases cancer (7).
As we previously mentioned in newsletters, we are looking to improve our happy hormones. Vitamin D regulates one of these important happy hormones, serotonin (8). There are parts of the brain that contain receptors for vitamin D, some of these regions of the brain relate to depression. The correct amount of vitamin D may increase serotonin levels the way that anti-depressants (SSRI’s) do by affecting these receptors (9). Vitamin D also helps to regulate adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine production in the brain (10). Note: Make sure to talk with your doctor whenever you want to make a major change in diet or medication.
Now that we know that vitamin D helps regulate certain hormones in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin. Let’s discuss ways you can increase your vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D Intake:
Happy foods: Fish is the hands down best food for your vitamin D intake. Rainbow trout (645 IU), sockeye salmon (570 IU) and Atlantic sardines (46 IU) have some of the highest levels of natural vitamin D. Our grandparents remedy of cod liver oil beats them all though with a whopping 1360 IU per serving. Mushrooms can have up to 366 IUs or higher depending on if they were treated with UV rays. Many beverages are now fortified with vitamin D and can have up to 120 IU per cup. Finally, eggs will add a good 44 IUs of vitamin D per egg to your diet (11).
Although, I mention fortified beverages for information purposes, I will say I personally am looking to trim down the number of processed foods I intake so I will be taking a closer look at which fortified beverages I choose to consume moving forward.
Sunshine: The other way that we can increase our daily vitamin D intake is getting some good old sun. Spending 15 minutes in the sun 3 times a week can lead to sufficient vitamin D levels. This must be on a sunny day and not behind a window. Our body produces vitamin D through the UVB radiation that it receives from the sun and windows block out most UVB light (12, 13).
Supplements: Finally, supplements of D3 can be taken to increase your vitamin D levels. This may be necessary if you are not able to get vitamin D through foods you eat or if you are unable to get outside to catch some sun.
Recipes: Below are a few of our favorite recipes for sneaking in extra vitamin D. New recipes coming also. These can get you started…
Vitamin D: Vitamin D works well with other nutrients to make us happy and maintain the body, this is called food synergy. Some of those examples are magnesium, omega-3s, calcium and vitamin K (14). This is important to get the best out of your supplements. Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means that it is not easily passed through urine like with water soluble nutrients. To get the best absorption you should combine your supplements with a meal, like pairing Vitamin D with healthy high fat foods.
Magnesium: Magnesium assists in absorbing vitamin D in the liver and the kidneys. If an enzyme metabolizes vitamin D, it requires magnesium (15,16). Therefore, if you are deficient in magnesium, you will also be deficient in vitamin D as well. Greens, nuts and beans like spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds and cashews are great magnesium rich foods (17).
Omega-3: Omega-3 will increase vitamin D by helping the body absorb D3 in the body when taken together. Vitamin D and omega-3 also helps increase one of the happy hormones serotonin (18). Many of the natural ways of bringing vitamin D into our diets is through fish. Luckily, fish is also a great source of omega-3 (19).
Calcium: Calcium is absorbed in the body with the help of vitamin D. So, if you have a deficiency in vitamin D it can adversely affect how much calcium your body has to fight off things like osteoporosis (20, 21, 22). Dairy is the best source of calcium including milk and cheeses. Pairing eggs with cheese can be a great way to boost both your vitamin D and calcium (23).
Vitamin K: Vitamin K and vitamin D are both fat-soluble nutrients. Vitamin K will also help keep the calcium in your bones where it belongs and out of your arteries. It does this by promoting calcification of bone and reduces calcification of soft tissues like blood vessels. Keeping calcium out of blood vessels reduces the possibility of vitamin D toxicity (24, 25). Dark green leafy veggies are the best sources of vitamin K but many meats and cheeses contain vitamin K as well like chicken, bacon, pork chops and hard cheeses (26).
The RDA of vitamin D:
According to the Institute of Medicine, the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin D is 800 IU per day for adults. However, what you may not know is that this was designed back when vitamin D deficiency was so great people were getting rickets (softening of the bones in children). Nowadays with less farmers farming and with the increase in technology, more people are inside than ever before. Vitamin D deficiencies are a real issue and may contribute to the decline in our well-being (27).
Vitamin D deficiencies:
There are many symptoms that show you may be deficient in vitamin D. If you are getting sick often, have fatigue and are always tired, have back pain, depression, slow wound healing, bone loss, hair loss or muscle pain, you should get your vitamin D levels tested by your doctor (28).
Toxicity Signs :
You can take too much vitamin D. If you have vitamin D toxicity, you can feel nausea, vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. In some cases, formation of calcium stones in the kidneys (29). You can only get toxicity from supplements, not from food or sunshine. This is due to how our bodies regulate vitamin D. The sun’s rays and food are not able to provide the amount of vitamin D to cause toxicity (30).
In one case involving vitamin D, the person took 60,000 IU per day for months. Which is an extremely high amount and not safe when only taken through supplements (31). That is why talking to your doctor it is so important. For example: My husband and I get our levels checked once a year by our doctor and Ben supplements by taking a multivitamin (400 IU) a separate supplement (2×1,000 IU) and the rest with food and sunshine. In the summer, we both stop taking the separate supplement. I take a multivitamin (1,000 IU) a separate supplement (3×1,000 IU) and the rest through food and sunshine.
Now that we have all of this information, what are some things we should do?
- Schedule time with your doctor to get tested to see where your levels are and if in fact you are deficient in vitamin D.
- Take a look at a typical day in your life. Write down all the sources of vitamin D you get throughout the week and the day. Are you getting enough through food or do you need to supplement? Check your multivitamin first and add a supplement as needed to meet your 2,000 or 4,000 daily goal.
- Include more foods high in vitamin D. Whether you cook at home, order in or go out, look for ways to add more vitamin D through your diet, especially in winter.
- Make winter fun! Find ways to embrace the sun. Treat yo’ self with some snow gear and get outside for some sun…natures other source of vitamin D.
Our First Challenge:
For our first challenge, let’s find and document how many IU of vitamin D we are getting per day and come up with ways to increase that amount. So we can see how much we are currently taking vs. how much we should be taking.
Bonus: Talk to your doctor and get your vitamin D levels checked.
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Vitamin D Cheat Sheet <– <– This weeks printable.