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3 Ways to Get More Vitamin D (& Why You Should)

By Carrie Havranek
March 24, 2021
Photo Credit: Ivan Gener

The benefits of vitamin D for your bones are well documented (vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium) and we also know that vitamin D is good for your mood. We’re most likely to feel the absence of vitamin D, a.k.a. the sunshine vitamin, in the wintertime when many of us suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

Beyond that? Integrative and functional medical professionals, clinical nutritionists, and dietitians have known something for a long time about vitamin D. Its role in shoring up your immune system is something worth paying attention to.

Vitamin D and Immunity

“Vitamin D is a central player in immunity,” says Dr. Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS. “There are receptors for vitamin D on every single cell in the immune system — B-cells, T-cells, you name it. They all respond to vitamin D.”

In other words, vitamin D is basically a traffic cop for the immune system. It makes sure it doesn’t respond too sluggishly (in which case you get sick) or over-actively (which can yield to autoimmune disease).

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

Your body can’t make vitamin D on its own, so there are three main ways to make sure you’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.

1. Get some sunshine.

Exposure to sunlight leads to the production of vitamin D. “We each have vitamin D receptor cells that, through a chain of reactions starting with conversion of cholesterol in the skin, produce vitamin D3 when they’re exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) from the sun,” says Yale Medicine dermatologist David J. Leffell, MD, chief of Dermatologic Surgery.

The problem? If you’re living in North America above a certain latitude, your skin is dark, and/or you’re older, you’re at risk for vitamin D deficiency. “Older individuals are less efficient at producing vitamin D after exposure to sunlight because their skin is thinner and contains fewer cells that can transform sunlight into vitamin D,” says Danielle Gaffen, MS, RDN at Eat Well Autoimmune.

2. Eat these vitamin D rich foods.

Certain foods, like fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon, and egg yolks contain vitamin D. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D — like milk, cereal, and orange juice. And some mushrooms are grown using UV light that infuses the fungi with vitamin D!

3. Take a supplement.

If you think you’re not getting enough vitamin D through your diet and exposure to sunlight, consider a high-quality vitamin D supplement. The RDA is 600 IU per day and up to 4,000 IU per day is considered a safe amount.

Talk to your doctor to see if testing your levels or taking a higher dose is appropriate.

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