Maximizing Your Vitamin D

Vitamin D is referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin actually makes it from cholesterol when exposed to sunlight. This unique vitamin plays many roles in the body and is essential for optimal health. Without adequate vitamin D, our body is unable to properly absorb calcium and phosphorus, both of which are required for strong, healthy bones. In addition, low vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of cancer, autoimmune disease, depression, muscle weakness, and chronic pain to name a few. Unfortunately, over 40% of adults in the US are deficient in Vitamin D.

This important vitamin is actually found naturally in very few foods and these foods are not ones that we all tend to eat regularly. The best natural sources include fish liver oils, some fatty fish, beef liver and egg yolks. Additionally, it can be found in fortified foods such as orange juice, milk and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, however, these are often foods we generally avoid because of high sugar content or food sensitivities. 

For reasons just mentioned, the sun is an important source of Vitamin D. How much Vitamin D is made by your skin depends on time of day, your age, how much skin is exposed and your skin tone. Without sunblock and with arms and legs exposed, the skin will make an average of 10,000 to 15,000 units of vitamin D in one pinking sun exposure. Sunblock with an SPF of more than 15 blocks up to 100% of vitamin D production in the skin.

Too much sun, however, comes with its own set of risks. So how do we safely get adequate intake of Vitamin D?  In general, we do recommend wearing non-chemical sunscreens on a regular basis to prevent sunburns, wrinkles and skin cancers. The following tips for intentional, limited sun exposure, however, can be very helpful in improving your levels of Vitamin D!

1. Exposure your skin around mid-day. Studies show that our bodies are most efficient at producing Vitamin D at noon. (Read about that here and here). Not only is it more efficient, this time of day may be safer than getting sun later in the day.

2. For those with fairer skin tones, limit this unprotected sun exposure to about 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Those with darker skin tones have more melanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen. In that case, try 30 minutes, three times a week.

3. During your intentional sun exposure, be sure to expose an adequate amount of skin. Some suggest exposing about a third of your body. A tank top and shorts (with your hat and sunglasses!) should work just fine.

Despite living in the “Sunshine State” we frequently see individuals with low or less-than-optimal Vitamin D levels, but with these recommendations you should certainly see a boost. If you do not live in sunny Florida, supplementation will most likely be required. Be sure to have your levels checked when considering supplementation.

Research indicates that the current Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin D may be too low for supporting optimal health beyond healthy bones. Much higher intake may be required to maintain adequate blood levels. In some instances, optimal vitamin D levels can only be achieved with supplementation. We routinely measure Vitamin D levels in all of our patients and generally consider optimal levels to be between 50-70pg/mL, though this may differ depending on your individual circumstances. We may suggest supplementing above the RDA based upon laboratory values, your individual health concerns, and other factors.

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for vitamin D is as follows:

Females, ages 19-70: 600 IUs per day

Females, ages 70+: 800 IUs per day

Males, ages 19-70: 600 IUs per day

Males, ages 70+: 800 IUs per day

If you are looking to boost your levels without supplementation even more, here is a list of foods that contain Vitamin D:

Food sources, standard serving size                           Avg. Vit D Content (IUs)

Cod liver oil, 1 Tbsp.                                                               1360

Salmon (pink, canned), 3 ounces                                           465

Salmon (sockeye, cooked), 3 ounces                                     447

Sardines (canned), 3 ounces                                                   164

Tuna fish (canned in water, drained), 3 ounces                     154

Milk (whole, 3.25% milkfat, fortified), 1 cup                          124

Orange juice (fortified), 8 ounces                                           100

Beef liver (cooked), 3 ounces                                                 42

Egg (cooked), 1 large                                                              41

Cereal (fortified), 1 cup                                                          40