Why vitamin D could change your life—and why you’re not getting enough of it

Up to 75% of the population is low in vitamin D, according to findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Not only are these people losing benefits to their body, they also might be risking major diseases in the future. Most people don’t worry about vitamin D because they assume they’re getting it from the sun. This is sadly misleading.

Sunlight doesn’t usually provide enough vitamin D. Unless a large portion of your skin is getting a solid 20 minutes of sunshine every day of the week, you’re probably deficient. For many of us, the sun only touches our arms and face (and usually less than 20 minutes). This is a shame because optimal vitamin D levels not only might save your life—it could also save your mood. Fortunately, an enjoyable source of vitamin D is waiting around the corner.

Have you guessed it yet? That delicious part of your day can be a bonus for you in more ways than you can think of. The key is to know which foods are high in the vitamin. Fishes like salmon, mackerel and sardines are great sources (as well as cod liver oil). Milk, egg yolks and yogurt give you great options for breakfast. There are also a few sources that may surprise you: orange juice, fortified tofu, almond milk, shiitake mushrooms and oatmeal. It’s truly hard to get enough vitamin D in your diet with food. I recommend at least5,000 IU's of vitamin D daily for most patients. These foods help get you closer to optimal levels. Here’s why that’s important—or, rather—here’s why that can change your life.

Vitamin D is not just a vitamin. It’s really more of a neurohormone. If you have an optimal amount of vitamin D, it can actually improve your overall mood. It can also raise your mental cognition. It can lead to a production of antimicrobials that reduce skin pathogens and gut infections. You absorb more calcium. Your risk of diabetes goes down, as well as the level of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

If that doesn’t convince you, maybe these medical facts will. People who don’t have enough vitamin D are more likely to get a range of medical problems: osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis. One study in particular has shown a link between breast cancer and women with low levels of vitamin D. Pain, decreased strength and all-cause mortality also have a higher correlation to people who are deficient in it. This is a scary reality that needs to be addressed in everybody.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the cognitive issues. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. No one wants this either for themselves or a loved one. Why would anyone raise the risk of it? By not getting enough of that vitamin, you’re doing just that. Think about this when you’re choosing foods throughout the week. Incorporate as much vitamin D-rich foods as possible.

Of course, you should also be realistic. You can’t just replace your entire diet to fit in a high enough level of vitamin D. Do your best to eat more of these foods, but also incorporate a supplement of the vitamin with your nutrition. To find out what your levels of vitamin D are, the best option is to get your blood drawn at a medical clinic. Find a clinic with expertise in nutrition or health and wellness. They can recommend the accurate dosage of D3 that you probably need.

Todd Farris, D.C. is a physician for The Broadway Clinic, an Oklahoma City integrative health and age management center. He has developed a multi-disciplinary practice to provide patients with bio-identical hormone replacement, nutritional and dietary needs.

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