Vitamin D, also known as the Sunshine Vitamin, plays essential roles in supporting our energy and balancing our moods. It also helps to build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin, and teeth, and supports the health of the thyroid gland—a butterfly-shaped gland in the throat that helps maintain a healthy weight, balanced metabolism, and energy levels. But, at this time of year, it is easy to develop a Vitamin D deficiency.
New evidence shows that people with higher levels of vitamin D experienced a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University just released its study linking low levels of vitamin D to diabetes in the June 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors of the study concluded that maintaining optimal vitamin D levels in the blood may be a type 2 diabetes prevention strategy.
Other research found that vitamin D plays a critical role in activating the body’s immune system against infectious diseases like the flu. Researchers note that a deficiency in this important vitamin, which actually acts like a hormone in your body, may result in a greater risk of contracting flu viruses. Also, additional research linked low amounts of vitamin D to autoimmune disorders, cancer, depression, diabetes, and heart disease.
Many people incorrectly think that getting a bit of sunshine daily is sufficient to meet their vitamin D requirements. However, after your skin is exposed to sunlight, it takes about 48 hours to convert it into vitamin D. During that time, the sunlight-initiated precursors to vitamin D can be washed off with soap and water. So, if you scrub your skin with soap in the shower, your body will not convert most of your skin’s sun exposure to vitamin D. I’m not suggesting that your stop showering after sun exposure, rather, that you primarily soap the areas that don’t see the light of day and was the sun-exposed ones with water only.
Getting enough sun exposure at this time of year can be difficult. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as fish and fish oils, and in smaller amounts in sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and many types of sprouts. People with low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) tend to have difficulty with vitamin D absorption and, as a result, tend to have higher needs for this nutrient. For most people I recommend supplementation of 2000 to 4000 IU daily but everyone’s needs are different so it is best to work with a qualified natural health specialist.