Portable Sunshine: Perking up my Vitamin D

When I first found out I had a vitamin D deficiency, I was kind of surprised. Although I’d heard it’s very, very common, I live in Los Angeles, city of perpetual sun and beaches. Even as a child, I spent summers speckled and brown, prancing around the Florida beaches without sunscreen, going back to school in September all tan and bronzed. While I try to wear sunscreen now, some days I forget, and I’m out in my garden for hours, training tomato vines, clipping cucumbers, not realizing till later that “Oops! I’m pink!” So long story short, I spend a lot of time outside — always have, always will. My husband and I even eat our dinners outside now that we’re in the sweet summer months, especially on days when it’s a bearable 85. I’ve always been a sun worshipper, and one of my favorite things is curling up on a beach towel with a good book and a glass of iced tea. So really, not enough sunshine for me?! Granted, I do wear sunscreen on my face every day and sunscreen can slow the absorption of Vitamin D, but I guess thought my So-Cal Sunny Bunny personality would keep me D-lightful.

Basking in the sun in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Turns out, you can’t actually get all your Vitamin D from sunshine. A lot of it comes from our food, and webMD says “It also occurs naturally in a few foods — including some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks — and in fortified dairy and grain products.” Well, that explains a lot, because I don’t eat fish, and when I have eggs, I always go yolkless, preferring the taste and low calories of whites. I also in general tend to usually order vegetarian at restaurants as I’m a picky meat eater, and people who don’t consume a lot of meat can have problems in this area.

In addition, obesity also screws things up, because “Vitamin D is extracted from the blood by fat cells, altering its release into the circulation. People with a body mass index of 30 or greater often have low blood levels of vitamin D.” However, the fantastic news is that Vitamin D has a large part in maintaining a healthy body weight because Vitamin D sends receptors to the brain to signal fullness and increase the balance of serotonin, the “happy” chemical that promotes well-being and stomps out depression and anxiety.  Here’s a stat that I especially like: “In a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, obese women who were put on a 15-week diet and took 1,200 milligrams of calcium/D a day lost six times more weight than women who followed the diet alone.” (from Women’s Health Mag)

Here are some other reasons you might have a vitamin D deficiency (from WebMD):

  • Your exposure to sunlight is limited. Because the body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, you may be at risk of deficiency if you are homebound, live in northern latitudes, wear long robes or head coverings for religious reasons, or have an occupation that prevents sun exposure.
  • You have dark skin. The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Some studies show that older adults with darker skin are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Your kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form. As people age their kidneys are less able to convert vitamin D to its active form, thus increasing their risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Your digestive tract cannot adequately absorb vitamin D. Certain medical problems, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease, can affect your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the food you eat.
Accidental sunshine overdose!!!

Accidental sunshine overdose!!!

So there ya have it – my body gets an A for effort, but my sunshine and calcium levels need more D! My doctor recommended a 5,000 mg supplement of D3 daily, and a friend of mine who is D-deficient said after about two weeks of her supplements, she was bouncing off the walls with her renewed energy levels. While I don’t feel particularly sluggish, I know that I do enjoy being a lazy bum, so hopefully this will perk me up a bit and encourage me to spend even more time outside!

Are you curious about your D levels, or any other minerals/vitamin levels? I know many people who have some kind of deficiency, so I’m not too shocked that I’ve joined the ranks, especially as one website I read said an estimated 77% of all Americans suffer a D-ficiency. (Har, har). I don’t want to be a broken record, but if you suspect something’s up, get thee to the doctor, stat! Till next time… I’m off to catch some rays!