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10 Things You Need to Know About Vitamin D

vitamin D immune system
Photo by Laura Pratt

Vitamin D... I've gotten so many questions about vitamin D and the immune system - what to take, how much to take, etc. and since it's all a bit more complicated than that I thought I'd share this with you today... 

10 Things You Need to Know About Vitamin D and the Immune System

  1. Your personal levels. You can find out with a simple blood test. I recommend getting your D-hydroxy checked annually with regular lab work. Just ask your doctor to add it. Optimal levels area between 50-80 ng/ml.
  2. It's not just for bone health, D is critical for immune function, too. Vitamin D is an immune modulator which means it helps boost the immune system when needed and also protect against too much inflammation. In short: lower vitamin D = lower immunity.
  3. It's technically a hormone. Because, unlike a vitamin, our bodies can make it.
  4. We need sunlight to make it. Hands down the best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. 20 minutes of mid to late-morning sun exposure on bare skin (no sunscreen - apply after if staying out).
  5. You can get it from foods - wild fish like salmon, herring and sardines; also egg yolks and liver (chicken or beef) are some of the best sources.
  6. Beware of fortified foods. Most are fortified with D2 which studies show is not as effective at raising vitamin D levels.
  7. If supplementing, look for D3. This is the form of vitamin D that the skin makes when exposed to the sun and that studies show to be more easily converted in the body. Even better look for D3 with K2, which is another nutrient required for absorption.
  8. It's easy to get too much with supplementation. This is why it's so important to know your levels. When levels get too high (over 100 ng/ml) it can have the opposite effect and suppress the immune system. Note: you can't get too much from natural sources like the sun - the skin will only make what it needs and no more.
  9. Vitamin D requires magnesium to be absorbed. So if you're low in magnesium (which studies show Vitamin D along with Mg are some of the most common deficiencies - somewhere between 50-80% of Americans are deficient) show somewhere between 50-80% of the population is) that can affect your vitamin D levels too. Be aware of this if taking vitamin D supplements as they can deplete magnesium further. Magnesium is in most plant foods, like dark leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and my favorite... dark chocolate.
  10. If supplementing recheck your blood levels after 3 months - especially at high doses (ie. 5,000 IU) re-check your blood levels after 3 months. And stop taking the supplement at least 2 days before the blood draw.

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