At local latitude of 65, most of us are all too aware of the risk of Vitamin D deficiency during the winter months. In fact, the state of Alaska could single-handedly keep the makers of the “Happy Light” in business. Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation (i.e. seasonal affective disorder), bone health, and maintaining a healthy immune system. But did you also know that Vitamin D is essential for reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, and autoimmune disease - just to name a few?
I am a recent transplant from Arizona where there is never a shortage of sunshine, and interestingly, even there, Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic. So this begs the question…why? Although sunshine is the most effective way to absorb Vitamin D, we must consider other factors. These include: Genetics, fortified foods, poor gut absorption, and inflammation.
Tips for Optimizing Vitamin D levels
- Ask your doctor to perform a simple blood test to check your Vitamin D levels to make sure that you are taking the right dose. Too little or too much Vitamin D can be a bad thing. Like most things in life, balance is what we are looking for. The optimal dose varies from person to person; so testing is the best way to monitor your individual response to treatment.
- Eat more fatty fish during the winter months. Fatty fish is not only a great source of Vitamin D, but of all of the fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, K). It is also a rich source of inflammation fighting Omega 3’s. Lucky for us, wild caught Alaskan salmon is readily available here! Wild sardines are another great option. But even if you are not a fish eater, no worries! You can easily supplement it with fish oil or cod liver oil. Some are even, dare I say it…. tasty!
- Avoid synthetic Vitamin D2, which is added to nearly all dairy and dairy alternatives. Synthetic Vitamin D2 competes with the active form, Vitamin D3. Instead, consider making your own nut milk that is not supplemented with the synthetic form. Bonus: It tastes way better than store bought and does not contain preservatives or other GI irritants such as carrageenan found in many commercially available products!
- Order a genetic test through 23andme.com to check for Vitamin D receptor mutations (VDR). This test is relatively inexpensive ($99) and yields a lot of other great information pertaining to your health and nutritional needs. It will also provide you with other fun information, including your heritage and percentage of DNA shared with Neanderthals. Once your results are in, contact one of the Alaska Center for Natural Medicine's doctors trained in Nutrigenomics to guide you in interpreting the results.
- Address gut inflammation. The health implications of poor gut function are far reaching. Many are surprised to learn that a large percentage of our immune function and neurotransmitter production (i.e. dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine) takes place in the gut. Vitamin D is intricately involved in the production of dopamine in particular, which plays an important role in mood, motivation, and focus. One simple step to improving gut function is to implement a quality probiotic. Testing for food allergies and sensitivities is another important step to identifying and removing sources of inflammation that result in poor absorption!
As you are probably starting to gather, this one essential vitamin, packs a big health promoting punch! Therefore, reaching optimal Vitamin D status is a very worthwhile endeavor and a great investment in your health and happiness!