Vitamin D benefits are numerous. How your body handles viruses, depression, cancer, winter, stress, bone and teeth health, and aging all depend on your Vitamin D levels and usability. Each person is different but our dependence on Vitamin D for optimal health is universal. In this article, Zoa explains how your body uses Vitamin D, how to know you are getting enough, and why you should know your own levels!
Table of Contents:
- Vitamin D is Crucial to Wellness
- How do Your Cells Get the Vitamin D Hormone?
- Difficulties Using Your Vitamin D: Genetics and Pathogens
- Vitamin D and Health: Immune Function, Bone Strength, and Mental Health
- 7 Ways to Activate your Vitamin D Receptors
- How Much Vitamin D Do You Need? Health Factors, Optimal Levels, and Suboptimal Vitamin D Symptoms
Vitamin D is Crucial to Wellness
Almost every cell in your body has within it a special receptor for Vitamin D called VDR. This fact qualifies Vitamin D to be called a hormone instead of a vitamin! It also signifies how important getting enough Vitamin D (VIT-D) is – for every part of your body.
The number of people worldwide who have live with insufficient VIT-D to stay healthy is over 1 billion. VIT-D deficiency is a pandemic scale health problem! Our modern indoor lifestyle at all ages make this issue independent of how close you live to the equator and more important if you plan to Feel Better Not Older!
VIT-D regulates genes that control many body and brain functions including:
- cell growth and development
- insulin metabolic control
- both adaptive and innate immune functions
- inflammation management
- calcium absorption in the gut
- liver detoxification
- hair growth
- dopamine and other brain chemicals
- prolactin hormone (which affects breastmilk production and male sexual performance)
- muscle contraction and growth
- lung capacity
- neural development and function
Low VIT-D levels are correlated with increased risk of:
- cancer particularly breast, prostate, colon, and leukemia
- rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases
- spinal disk degeneration
- low bone density resulting in osteopenia and osteoporosis
- high cholesterol
- polycystic ovarian syndrome (pcos)
- heart disease
- asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- multiple sclerosis
- thyroid disease
- high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- tooth decay
- inflammatory bowel disease
How Do Your Cells Get the Vitamin D Hormone?
Your Skin: You can make VIT-D within your skin from the UVB part of sunlight as long as you have bare skin (naked!) exposed to intense overhead sunshine for long enough (20 min if you live south of Georgia, USA). Inside your skin cells, stored cholesterol is converted into the chemicals that make up Vitamin D. Your ability to make your own vitamin D goes down with age, is lower with darker skin, drops to almost zero when you wear sunscreen, and is definitely zero if you stay inside during the hours between 10 and 2 (no daylight savings).
Your Foods: VIT-D can also come from your diet – as long as you like cold water fatty fish like salmon. Likely, you do not eat enough of these foods to provide sufficient VIT-D for every cell of your body every day of the year – my definition of wellness. Many of us including me need to supplement.
Supplements: When you supplement, your body might have to do work to convert what you swallow into a form that is more bioavailable. This extra step takes more energy and time and also presents a place to derail the supplement from getting to your cells. A VIT-D2 supplement was created from a plant source exposed to UVB light while a VIT-D3 supplement used an animal source. The VIT-D3 is closer to what our body makes – we are animals!
Is the VIT-D usable? Nope. What you just made or ate is biologically inert. It can’t be used. Your liver, kidneys, parathyroid hormones have some work to do! Once you take or make VIT-D3, your body moves the VIT-D3 into your liver which changes it to a form called 25-hydroxyvitamin or 25(OH)D for short. A VIT-D blood test usually measures this form. Next, your kidney makes the bioactive form called calcitriol or 1.25 dihydroxy vitamin D. This kidney action requires the assistance of parathyroid hormone (how are your thyroid and parathyroids?). Other locations in your body can also accomplish this last step in order to make calcitriol locally when needed. If your liver and kidneys are not up to the tasks needed, your sunshine time or supplement do not result in enough usable VIT-D.
How do cells use calcitriol? Calcitriol glides over to a cell, slides through the cell wall, and plugs into a Vitamin D Receptor. Or does it? That depends on if the VDR is ready and waiting, full, or unusable. Your VDR capabilities are determined by your genetics, inflammation state, and your mineral balance.
Difficulties Using Your Vitamin D
Genetic Limitations Related to Vitamin D
The VDR gene controls the VIT-D Receptors in your cells. If your VDR gene is mutated (suboptimal), it will not function optimally and you will have trouble using the VIT-D that you make/take into your body. Your genetic predisposition to not use VIT-D well (homo or heterozygeous variants to your VDR gene) should be part of determining your optimal VIT-D level in your blood and your supplementation plan. If you have genetic data from 23andMe or another genetic test source, you can use GeneticGenie’s Methylation Profile (please donate if you use it!) to uncover your own VDR gene status and proceed from there!
Pathogens Can Turn Off Your Vitamin D Usage
Some pathogens have developed the ability to reduce the operation of VIT-D receptors in certain types of cells. These pathogens are sneaky and are slowly turning you off in their efforts to survive! These pathogens then accumulate in your tissues, creating inflammation and beginning an autoimmune disease. Some species of mold (aspergillus fumigatus), some viruses (Epstein-Barr), and some bacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) have been shown to downregulate your VIT-D usage which makes your immune system weak. A pathogen that lacks a cell wall (like chlamydia pneumoniae that causes pneumonia) or a pathogen that can go through a cell wall (like mycotoxins created by mold) or a pathogen that hides inside a cell (like Lyme) can hijack the cell’s VDR receptor and essentially go unnoticed by your immune system. You don’t get well – hello chronic disease!
There is another problem with calcitriol floating around in your blood not able to go into the VDR receptors. Since calcitriol is a steroid hormone (like testosterone and estrogen) it can start to mingle with the other hormone’s jobs. Calcitriol starts pushing it’s way into the receptors for other things – like your hormones – thereby reducing the effectiveness of your hormones. This leads to hormone imbalances like hypothyroid conditions and adrenal stress.
Vitamin D For Health
Vitamin D is an important element to overall health and wellbeing of body and mind. It affects every cell in your body, but the big 3 reasons for me are: the strength of my immune system, the strength of my bones, and my mental health and happiness. Read on for details!
Immune Function and Vitamin D
Vitamin D both calms and boosts your immune system. An overactive immune system is just as bad as an underactive one – just ask anyone with dealing with an autoimmune disease! Your immune system has 2 parts both tasked with identifying “you” cells from “non-you” bits and getting rid of the “non-you”.
Part 1, the innate immune system, is quick to respond and short term. This is the first line of defense is tasked with the job of stopping the spread of any infection or toxin. Vitamin D along with mineral/vitamin partners ramps up the innate immune function.
Part 2, the adaptive immune system, is slow to respond but has a long memory. This component creates highly specialized fighters for each new virus, bacteria, or other pathogen. Vitamin D tames the adaptive immune system.
For both of these goals, you need enough usable Vitamin D for every cell.
Vitamin D, Bone Strength, and Osteoporosis
Vitamin D controls how much calcium is digested in the intestines which explains why VIT-D used to be called the “bone vitamin”. Calcium is stored in your bones and contributes to their strength. Yay! Calcium is also critical for your nervous system, muscle contractions, and your heart in particular. Your calcium level in your blood is therefore kept steady, even if calcium needs to be taken out of the bones to do it. A wellness-oriented choice for VIT-D daily intake ensures that your body absorbs calcium from your diet instead of stealing what is necessary from your bones. Calcium poor bones are fragile and brittle, lead to a diagnosis of osteoporosis, and a bad idea!
Mental Health, Dopamine, and Vitamin D
Dopamine is known as the pleasure chemical of the brain; it is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger for the brain. Vitamin D stimulates the enzymes that create dopamine – the neurotransmitter that your brain requires in order for you to feel good. Low VIT-D levels are associated with depression, insomnia, even schizophrenia and drug abuse. Without enough dopamine, we feel helpless, unmotivated, and without joy.
7 Ways to Activate your Vitamin D Receptors
If your (possibly undiagnosed!) chronic illness has decreased your VDR function, you can’t use your Vitamin D even if you have plenty lying around in your blood. Your Wellness Lifestyle can have a big positive impact on your cell’s ability to make use of the VIT-D that you create/take. These 7 easy ways will boost up the activity of your VDR receptors in your cells:
- Eat or drink curcumin – a great anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric – I get mine by drinking Cosmic Gold from Moon Juice, drinking plenty of cold-pressed organic vege/herb juices in our group order from Farmer’s Juice, and using/storing fresh turmeric (local, organic and grown with love by Next Step Produce)
- Eat or supplement with fatty acids – particularly Omega-3s – I use Wiley’s Finest brand Fish Oil
- Up your vitamin E – easily absorbed through the skin and a great reason to grab an avocado, bake a salmon filet, add spirulina to your supplement list or diet, or request a bottle of Zoa’s Vitamin E based Anti-Inflammatory Essential Oil Blend
- Get your quercetin up – a flavenoid prevalent in nature and easily obtainable from your diet – many red, green, and purple vegetables and fruits contain quercetin but you must eat them raw as cooking beyond 120 ℉ damages the flavenoid – come to my La Plata, MD studio to pick up your colored veges from Next Step Produce
- Reduce your caffeine intake – caffeine decreases the activity of your VDR receptors – shift toward getting enough B vitamins for your energy boost instead – I get mine by drinking either Ting or an Arbonne Fizzy Stick
- Boost your magnesium – it is a partner to Vitamin D just like calcium -insufficient magnesium (over 80% of Americans are low) leads to unusable Vitamin D and trouble! – I use 90% dark chocolate and Magnesi-Om as my magnesium sources.
- Be sure to exercise – the demands for calcium from working muscles stimulates VDR to activate in order to bring calcium and magnesium to the muscles – join me for a Strength Oriented Class to get your muscle action going!
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
Health Factors That Affect Vitamin D Needs
Babies get the perfect amount of Vitamin D from the mother’s breastmilk. Once a baby or toddler is no longer breastfeeding, they are on their own for VIT-D! As we age, our bodies tend to lose some of their abilities compared to our youth. Our VIT-D needs should adjust to match where we are in life.
- Aging Skin is less effective at making VIT-D from sunshine exposure. Post-menopausal women and older men need 3 times longer in the sun in order to make the same amount of VIT-D as a young adult or child. Even after retirement, older adults usually do not get enough sun exposure to avoid the need to supplement – especially if they are in a care facility or limited in mobility.
- Poor liver and kidney function results in less effective conversions of VIT-D into the bioactive form called calcitriol.
- Pharmaceutical drugs targeting the liver and kidneys often result in VIT-D being used up instead of converted into the bioactive form.
- Low Hormones or Menopause that result in decreased estrogen and testosterone will decrease the number and activity of VIT-D receptors.
- Obesity is associated with higher vitamin D needs – possibly because VIT-D gets stuck in the fat cells (it is fat soluble!).
- Gastric surgery where part of the stomach or small intestine are removed will result in decreased VIT-D absorption capabilities.
Optimal Vitamin D Levels
Many functional medicine doctors are now suggesting that your blood test results show a 25(OH)D level of 50-90 ng/mL while others are confident that the range of 30-50 ng/mL is best. The question is – what about you in particular? For that, you need either personalized guidance from your doctor or to experiment with your levels and determine what level helps you operate and feel at your best. Vitamin D can never be considered in isolation of your other mineral/vitamin/hormone/overall health status but it is part to the puzzle which is you!
If you are experimenting with your VIT-D dosage, keep in mind the following bits of information:
- The 25(OH)D form of VIT-D has an average lifetime of 15-20 days. This means that if you stop supplementing or getting sunshine for 2 weeks, most of the VIT-D in your blood will be gone.
- The average life of the bioactive form calcitriol is less than 15 hours so your cells need to use it or lose it!
- Choose your supplement to be VIT-D3 or cholecalciferol in order to be closes to the form made by your skin. Pair it with Vitamin K2 in order to increase effectiveness.
- After you change your supplementation amount, the level in the blood varies for quite a bit of time. Many suggest that you wait 2-3 months before testing your blood levels again to establish a steady consistent state. You will feel benefits and reduction of problems much earlier – within a few weeks for most.
- You need appropriate amounts of Vitamin K2, Zinc, Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin B-6 and more micronutrients in order to properly use your new VIT-D level well.
The relationship between these levels and that of calcitriol stored in your cells in uncertain but without intake or creation of VIT-D, your cellular levels will be used up before you know it!
Symptoms Associated with Suboptimal Vitamin D
- muscle cramps
- joint pain and stiffness
- thin nails and skin
- muscle weakness due to poor contractions
- inflexible blood vessels
- poor postural control and balance
- daytime sleepiness or chronic lethargy
- frequent illness
- low back pain
- recurring intestinal issues
- chronic pain
- sadness and depression
- slow wound healing
- frequent headaches