We're entering the time of year when many people get up and dressed in the dark, drive to work in the dark, and then drive home in the dark, after sitting all day in an office with fluorescent lighting. Many of us are exhausted all the time, regardless of our sleep habits. We need sun, really need it. Our bodies use sunlight to activate vitamin D, which is used in so many chemical reactions, from absorbing calcium in the digestive tract to supporting immune function and brain health. Without vitamin D, we find ourselves lethargic, depressed, with poor digestion, low back pain, and not functioning at our best mentally.
In the state of Washington, something like 80% of people are clinically vitamin D deficient, the highest rate in any of the 50 states, including Alaska. Washington also has the highest rates of MS, depression, and certain kinds of cancers. Not only that, but in many cases, people who test within the normal range (lab values between 30-100 are a typical normal range), may still not be getting enough vitamin D to adequately absorb all their dietary calcium. Values greater than 50 are necessary to properly absorb calcium, which is used in bone health (as we all know), brain function and also in muscle contraction and relaxation (skeletal, smooth, and cardiac). Without adequate absorption, our bodies begin to break down bone cells to release calcium, leading to osteopenia and, in some cases, osteoporosis. This bone damage begins in our 20s and women are particularly susceptible although it can happen to men, too. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or weight training, is also important to help maintain healthy bones, but without the calcium to lay down over the lattice of bone cells, bones become brittle and more prone to fracture.
The vitamin D test is a very simple, cost-effective blood test that can be performed at any time of day (you don't have to be fasting) and is covered as a standard laboratory test by almost every insurance plan. Supplementation with vitamin D is an essential tool for getting through the dark winters of the Northwest and should be done under a doctor's care. Most over-the-counter supplements are either in a poorly absorbable tablet or are in insufficient dosages to have any significant effect on vitamin D deficiency. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that should be taken with food to aid in its absorption. Adults, pregnant women, and children all have varying recommended dosages and should seek professional testing and advice from their family naturopath before beginning supplementation.
And the most important caveat: Don't use tanning beds to try to ramp up your D levels. They project both the vitamin D- enhancing UVB light as well as the skin cancer-inducing UVA. Stay out of the tanning beds!