If you keep up on health news and trends, you’ve likely heard a lot about vitamin D and its role in bone health and supporting immunity. You’ve probably also heard vitamin D deficiency is rampant in modern society.
And if you see a doctor who is up on these trends, you’ve likely had your vitamin D levels testing at your annual checkup.
What most people don’t realize is vitamin D is crucial to not only bone and immune health, but to nearly every single bodily function and the prevention of chronic disease.
Plus, what may appear as “normal” on your lab panel does not necessarily equate to “optimal” when it comes to promoting health and longevity and preventing chronic disease.
At kNew Health we believe you have the right to fully understand your lab tests, including how to read the results, what they mean (“normal” levels vs. “optimal” levels) and how to optimize your lab markers to prevent disease and promote excellent health.
Which is why we’re kicking off our: “Understanding Your Lab Results” series with vitamin D.
In today’s article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about vitamin D blood tests including:
- The role vitamin D plays throughout all your bodily systems
- The root causes of deficiency (hint: it’s not just lack of sunshine)
- Optimal/functional lab marker ranges
- What you can do to optimize your vitamin D levels
- And how often to get your levels checked
Why Everyone Should Get Their Vitamin D Levels Checked
Just a few years ago, most doctors would not have thought to check a patients’ vitamin D levels unless they were suffering from rickets or a rare disease.
However, thanks to modern science we now know vitamin D is crucial to nearly every single function in the body―from optimizing bone health to gene expression.
And many doctors, and us at kNew Health, now routinely run what’s known as a 25-OH Vitamin D test.
Your vitamin D levels also play a lesser-known key role in chronic disease prevention and symptoms such as:
- Blood sugar levels―through its role in metabolism. Studies have shown vitamin D supplementation is advantageous for preventing and controlling diabetes and metabolic issues, such as insulin resistance [note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2426990/[/note]
- Regulating mood―studies suggest vitamin D may play a role in mood disorders such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17499448[/note]
- Hormonal balance―research has shown that getting enough vitamin D can help optimize hormonal function in men[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21154195[/note]and women[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19916051[/note]
- Controlling inflammation―vitamin D helps control inflammation through regulating production and proliferation of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules known as: cytokines. In plain English: vitamin D helps quell the issue of chronic inflammation associated with so many deadly diseases
- Modulating immunity―unlike other immune-boosting vitamins, vitamin D has the incredible ability to super-charge both your innate immunity and your adaptive immunity.This means it helps your body produce more of the white blood cells and virus-killing lymphocytes you need to get better faster and prevent illness from taking root[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23482605/[/note]
- Preventing cancer―optimal vitamin D levels have been shown protective against a variety of cancers, most notably: breast, prostate, colon and ovarian cancers. And by “protective” we mean both for prevention and lowering the rate of mortality… Pretty darn impressive for such a humble vitamin[note]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470481/[/note]
- A healthy pregnancy―new research has found vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can result in several complications including: increased risk of preeclampsia, bacteria vaginosis, increased rate of c-section and greater chance of gestational diabetes[note]https://www.medpagetoday.com/obgyn/pregnancy/38113[/note]
The above listed conditions only represent a small sampling of how vitamin D impacts our health, and new research is pouring in fast.
Bottom line: if your vitamin D levels are sub-optimal, your body is working at a disadvantage that could lead to a more serious condition.
The Root Causes of Low Vitamin D/Vitamin D Deficiency (not just lack of sunshine)
Thanks to our modern indoor-based lifestyles, most of us aren’t getting enough natural sunlight―the #1 best source of vitamin D.
This issue is compounded by a fear of skin cancer. Which means when we are outside enjoying the sun we’re unlikely to be absorbing its life-giving vitamin D through our SPF 50 sunblock.
Now don’t get us wrong, it is essential to protect your skin from burning or over-exposure to the sun. However, nearly everyone can benefit from a reasonable amount of unprotected sunshine daily.
How much do you need to prevent low vitamin D or vitamin D deficiency?
That depends on your skin tone, geographical location and medical history. So check with your healthcare practitioner and/or do some research to determine what is appropriate for you.
Beyond lack of sun exposure, the following factors can impact your vitamin D levels:
- Geographical location makes a difference as most of us who live above Atlanta don’t get any vitamin D via the sun in the winter. Many experts believe this is a big causal factor behind the immune-dips most of us experience in the colder months
- Body mass index counts. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the more body fat you have, the less vitamin D your body can access and use. This is a lesser-known cause of vitamin D deficiency
What’s the Optimal/Functional Range of Vitamin D for You?
When we look at optimal vitamin D levels through the functional medicine lens (not just “normal”), we want to see levels between 40-60―with anything less than 30 warranting either more sun exposure and/or supplementation.
Why aren’t “normal ranges” enough?
“Normal” vitamin D ranges were established to prevent rickets, not to optimize your health and prevent other chronic diseases. So, if you want to do more than prevent rickets, aim for those optimal/functional ranges.
Since everyone’s levels will vary and it is possible to overdo vitamin D supplementation (tough, but possible), we highly recommend working with your kNew Health Coach or practitioner to determine the best amount of vitamin D for you.
There’s no sense in guessing or automatically resorting to high-dose vitamin D supplementation when the lab work can guide you safely.
How to Sensibly and Safely Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
If your lab work reveals sub-optimal vitamin D levels, the next step is to make a plan to replenish and rebuild your stores.
It’s never too late to do this! And, as you saw in the section above, the preventative health benefits are second-to-none.
The best way to optimize your levels safely is to get enough sun exposure for your skin type, location, etc. And you’ll need to work with your Health Coach or practitioner to determine this and exercise good common sense (don’t ever let your skin burn).
The next-best way to optimize your levels (and this may be best for those with a history of skin cancer) is through appropriate supplementation.
Bear in mind, you don’t want to take the wrong form of vitamin D.
Vitamin D3, preferably with K2, is the active form of vitamin D (vs. vitamin D2) and thus the safest and most effective form of supplementation available.
Your Health Coach or practitioner can work with you to recommend a reputable brand and dosage based on your lab markers and goals.
As a complement to safe sun exposure and supplementation, it’s a good idea to include some vitamin-D-rich foods in your diet such as: wild salmon, sardines, grass fed beef, dairy (for those without sensitivities), mushrooms and eggs.
How Often to Get your Vitamin D Levels Checked
We recommend having your levels checked at least twice during the year, sometimes more depending on your situation.
This way we can account for change in season, changes in your health (like weight-loss) and adjust your regime accordingly.
It can take months to rebuild your vitamin D stores, but if you take the proper measures to do so, it will happen. So be patient and kind with your body and stay the course.
You always kNew fresh air and sunshine played a role in how good (or bad) you felt; and now you know vitamin D’s role in this beautiful symbiotic relationship between us and the sun.
It’s a humbling reminder of how deeply we are connected to the natural world around us.
And now that you understand how your vitamin D levels affect your health and how to read your lab work, know we are here to help.
All kNew Health members receive a vitamin D lab workup as part of their initial assessment, along with a dedicated Health Coach to help you optimize your levels for the long-term.
To learn more about kNew Health’s approach to health and membership benefits click here, and enjoy some sunshine today!
-The kNew Health Team