Vitamin D for Dummies

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

I don’t know about you, but I can feel a major difference in my mental and physical state when it’s a gloomy day out. However, the moment the sun is shining again everything seems to turn around. I notice this so often, so it definitely isn’t just coincidence.

Vitamin D being made is what we are feeling when the sun warms our skin. And it’s more significant than you think.

For some, just the very act of going outside to get vitamin D usually involves some kind of physical activity or socializing, which we all know is good for the soul to fight depression. Many studies of the effects of vitamin D mentally and physically have found that vitamin D intake has helped reduce depression in certain groups such as the elderly, children and overweight people too.

Vitamin D helps your body regulate calcium and phosphate, which helps keep bones, teeth and muscles in check, according to the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS). If you don’t have enough dietary calcium in your body, then it has to be “borrowed” from your skeleton. Your bones tend to be weaker and more prone to fractures then.

So, how do you avoid this? Vitamin D is created when your skin is exposed to the sun, with the help of the kidneys and liver too, in order for it to be used by your body. However, skin tone also has an effect on absorption. Melanin is a natural pigment in the skin that makes it look darker, so darker skin tones have more melanin. Though melanin also acts as a defense to UV radiation and high temperatures. A Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School said the pigment makes it harder for the body to absorb vitamin D.

“Melanin is the substance in skin that makes it dark,” the Harvard Medical School report said. “It ‘competes’ for UVB with the substance in the skin that kick-starts the body’s vitamin D production. As a result, dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to generate the same amount of vitamin D.”

Now, you might be wondering why you mom badgered you to put on sunscreen so much as a kid. Sun exposure sounds pretty good right? Well, according to dermatologists, the amount of sunscreen people usually use is not enough or applied thoroughly enough to make much of a difference. Though those who take the most rigorous precautions against sun exposure may not be getting the recommended amount of vitamin D, skin cancer still trumps deficiencies (even when you’re thinking about not applying sunscreen in order to get your daily dose).

Instead, turn to certain foods if sunlight is in short supply. Egg yolks, liver, red meat and oily fish, such as salmon, cod, sardines and herring all have vitamin D naturally. Though not as natural, fortified foods like milk, cereal, yogurt and orange juice can also be a good source.

Since vitamin D is less commonly found in everyday, healthy lifestyles, you might also turn to supplements. This might be a better option for vegan and lactose-intolerant diets, since it is mostly found in animal products, milk and yogurt. The National Institutes of Health Vitamin D Fact Sheet said people ages 1 through 70 should have about 600 International Units (IUs) a day (with, theoretically, no sun exposure). That recommendation might vary from person to person though.

The Cleveland Clinic said just about 15-20 minutes of sun exposure, three times weekly, will do for the week. While a vitamin D dietary supplement fact sheet by the National Institutes of Health said a three ounce piece of cooked salmon has 447 IUs, three ounces of swordfish has 557 IUs, an egg yolk has 41 IUs and a cup of fortified orange juice has 137 IUs.

So, if you’re feeling a little down nowadays, cooped up inside during the pandemic, something as simple as taking a step outside might help. Then try to incorporate other vehicles of vitamin D if you feel like this may have done the trick.