In recent years, the amazing benefits of vitamin D have taken the health industry by storm. Since we’re locked down in a pandemic and winter is still upon us, most of you won’t be catching any rays any time soon. That said, I thought it would be a good idea to review the health benefits of the sunshine nutrient and discuss how to optimize your levels.

Vitamin D is not your average vitamin –it’s actually a steroid hormone that’s synthesized in your body from cholesterol in response to sunlight. In addition to sun exposure, you can get vitamin D from supplements and a small variety of foods (most foods are poor sources of vitamin D).

Vitamin D is dynamite when it comes to health benefits! It supports heart health, immune function (VERY important with COVID-19!), stable mood, bone health, muscle strength, brain function, etc. What’s more, several studies have shown that safe and appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer.

Noting these amazing health benefits, it’s concerning that approximately 50 percent of people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. (This number may be as high as 70 percent in school-aged children.) What might be causing the widespread deficiency in this super nutrient? Many lifestyle factors are likely to blame including use of sunscreen, spending more time indoors and living in cities where buildings block sunlight.

I advise all of my clients to get their vitamin D levels tested regularly. My preferred test is for 25-hydroxy D.  I recommend optimal ranges for vitamin D levels depending on your health status and suggest high quality supplements when indicated.

Of course, getting safe sun exposure every day is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels and one of the best things you can do for your overall health. But what if  you are farther than 35º from the equator and you only get natural vitamin D for part of the year?  There’s an app for that. I love DMinder; it tracks the sun and tells you when you can get Vitamin D. It tracks your doses of D from the sun and/or supplements to estimate your current level between regular visits to your physician.

What about sunscreen during the summer when we’re allowed to get outside again? I recommend avoiding most commercially available sunscreens because they block your body’s ability to produce vitamin D and they’re loaded with toxic chemicals. However, sunscreens available in most health food stores are safe to use when you need them.

Remember, if you can’t control how much sun you’ll get it’s important to protect your skin. If you’re Caucasian, once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink it’s time to get out of the sun. Sunburn anywhere on your body is never healthy. Who would have thought that (safely and appropriately) catching some rays could be so healthy?

What’s the take-home message?  Get your vitamin D tested at least annually and schedule a consult with me if you want to optimize you level. Catch rays safely when possible and avoid sunburn. Remember that vitamin D is dynamite when it comes to health benefits!