“[Sunlight] is one of nature’s most healing agents.”
—Healthful Living, 229
What is Vitamin D?
Often called the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is a crucial component of health. From modulating the function of encoding proteins within DNA to neuromuscular and immune function to reducing inflammation, vitamin D is truly the “renaissance man” of the human body, playing a role in nearly every function of the cells.
Among its many roles, vitamin D promotes strong, dense bones and teeth by enabling better calcium and phosphate absorption. It also facilitates adequate immune system function, which improves the body’s resistance to disease. Interestingly, vitamin D affects hormone balance, as well, by having a pro-hormone effect within the body. And lastly, this special vitamin maintains cardiovascular health.
Based on recent studies, it is now theorized that a sufficient level of vitamin D has the capacity to prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, common illnesses (cold, flu), and various sleep disorders.
The Two Types of Vitamin D
While there are several different types of vitamin D, only two types are vital to the human body: D2 and D3. Both are biologically inactive forms of vitamin D, which means that the liver and kidneys must activate them first before the body can use them properly.
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): This type of vitamin D is made by plant foods and its only natural source is found in fungi and algae that have been exposed to sunlight. Otherwise, several other plant-based products (orange juice, cereals, soymilk, etc.) are fortified with vitamin D2.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): This type of vitamin D is made primarily by the skin via the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. As sun exposure is obtained, the vitamin D3 is synthesized from the skin’s own cholesterol. Supplementation is possible from the same sources as vitamin D2.
How to Obtain Vitamin D Naturally
Sun exposure is the ideal source for vitamin D synthesis. The best time to receive exposure is between the hours of 11:00am and 2:00pm. Only 15 minutes a day is necessary for those with fairer skin tones, but the quintessential amount of exposure time has yet to be determined for darker skin tones. While it’s been proven that medium and dark skin tones require more time in the sun for adequate absorption, this raises skin cancer alarm bells. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people will die of melanoma (skin cancer) in 2018, based on statistics from prior years. Caution is advised for those who might believe that simply doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling the fairer skin time will produce the desired effect. Until more research is conducted on safe sun exposure times for medium to darker skin tones, each individual will have to weigh the risks of a vitamin D deficiency against the very real risks of skin cancer and make a decision that is best for their unique situation.
It must be noted that the skin on the face is not proficient at synthesizing vitamin D. Instead, the forearms and even the top of the feet and lower portions of the legs are most effective at synthesizing vitamin D. Yet, modesty need not be sacrificed on the altar of vitamin deficiency fears. The forearms are quite sufficient at absorbing ultraviolet rays and conducting adequate synthesis. There is no need to sunbathe in revealing apparel. Such actions will only encourage untoward attention and increase the probability of developing other health conditions. The body, after all, was not designed to maintain an even, health-benefiting temperature all-throughout the system without proper covering. That said, it should also be noted that a study was once conducted on Muslim women who adhere strictly to their full-coverage dress code and receive little to no sun exposure at all. Because of the severity by which this particular group of women’s heads, faces, and even hands and feet were shielded from the sun, it was observed that they all maintained shockingly low levels of vitamin D. Each woman suffered the very same ailments and complaints: chronic pain (specifically in the back), intense fatigue, moodiness, greater susceptibility to illness, over-extended healing times, weakened bones and teeth, skin conditions, muscle fatigue and weakness, hormonal imbalances, and heart issues, as well as various diseases and disorders, including sleep dysfunction and infertility.
While it is important that sun exposure be the main source of vitamin D, sometimes it is not enough, especially for those who are already deficient.
Because nearly every function within the body depends on vitamin D, it can be quickly depleted if not continually obtained from one source or another. Supplementation, along with daily sun exposure, is often necessary, depending on one’s latitude, lifestyle, and level of deficiency.
Plant-only supplements are sourced from fungi and algae. Generally, moss (lichen) and algae are used. Often, the labels will only read as a vegan-friendly “Vitamin D,” but to be sure one has found a trustworthy source, a clear labeling of “Vitamin D3” is necessary. If a less “processed” source is preferred to a capsule-form, it is best to seek out powdered marine plants in bulk.
Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, its supplement must be taken with a plant-based fat so that it can be properly absorbed into the body. Also, the kidneys and liver must be kept well in order for efficient synthesis to take place. Eating foods that overly tax these organs will prohibit a sufficient synthesis of vitamin D.
Beware: Some supplements are sourced from lanolin—a wax-like substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep (to hydrate and protect their wool). While it is an animal product, it is not a carnivorous product, so they may be labeled in a way that appears to be “vegan-friendly.” Always study labels carefully and investigate customer reviews online, just in case.
What Do Vitamin D Deficiencies Look Like?
A new study has revealed that over 75% of the United States’ population is deficient in vitamin D. It was assumed for some time that only those living in certain latitudes would be affected because they endure less sunlight due to extreme winters, smog, and overcast skies. That has not been the case, however. Regardless of latitude (and probably due to lifestyle), Americans everywhere are suffering from vitamin D deficiencies. Sadly, common medical procedure often lends itself to a misdiagnosis of such a deficiency, leading to only the symptoms being treated—not the deficiency itself.
It is important, therefore, to be able to recognize the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency so that one may have a balanced discussion with his or her doctor and decide upon which course of action to take.
Signs of Vitamin D Deficiencies—
- chronic pain (fibromyalgia, back pain, bone pain, joint pain)
- muscle weakness
- psoriasis (and the like: rashes, redness, itchy skin, dry skin, flaky skin, acne)
- constant fatigue (worsens during midday or after eating)
- depression (mood swings, crankiness, anxiety, general feeling of discontent)
- “sweaty head,” or sometimes excessively oily scalp
- constant respiratory issues (asthma in children)
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- cardiovascular issues (murmurs, disease)
- chronic kidney disease
- easily succumbing to sicknesses
- easy weight gain, difficulty losing weight
- impaired (or slowed) healing
- bone density loss
- hair loss
- teeth issues (bleeding gums, discoloration of teeth, easily chipped teeth)
- cognitive impairment (children, elderly, students and those with indoor occupations)
Possible Causes for Deficiency—
- avoidance of sun (occupation, schooling, other lifestyle choices)
- living in a latitude that does not permit year-round sun exposure
- improper nutrition that leads to inefficient absorption of vitamin D
- certain diseases and cancers that hinder the function of the intestines and kidneys
- aging has decreased the kidneys’ ability to convert vitamin D
- imbalanced gut flora that would normally enable the digestive tract to absorb vitamin D
- having darker skin
- obesity (fat cells help extract vitamin D from the blood but too many fat cells smother the process)
Vitamin D is vital for healthful living. Without it, disease is imminent. Vitamin D is not easily found in food sources, but if sun exposure is limited, plant-based supplementation is possible. Even if taking supplements, one should seek out minimal but consistent sun exposure between 11:00am and 2:00pm every day.
There is a shocking rise in vitamin D deficiencies throughout the world, especially in the United States. This could be due mostly to lifestyle changes within the last 30 years, as most communities have sought indoors-based occupations, student careers have expanded beyond 15 consecutive years spent within doors, and most choices for entertainment have moved from engaging outdoor activities to sedentary indoor forms, such as television, computer, and smartphone use.