Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” since our bodies naturally produce it when we are exposed to sunlight. It is pretty amazing for its wide variety of health benefits. These include supporting healthy teeth and bones, helping protect us against heart disease, fighting depression, and supporting our weight management efforts.
Vitamin D may also provide protection against acute respiratory infections, such as the common cold and pneumonia, since it appears to have powerful immune-boosting properties.
In the case of boomers, for example, one study of “older” patients suggested that those taking higher doses of vitamin D had about 40 percent fewer respiratory infections over the course of a year than those taking standard doses.
More recent research suggests vitamin D may be an important weapon in our health care arsenal to reduce our risk of developing severe Covid-19 disease.
In fact, some health and science experts are so convinced that vitamin D may reduce Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities that 120 of them sent an open letter to world governments calling on them to recommend that their adult citizens take at least 2,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D daily.
The current daily recommended intake in the U.S. for adults under age 70 is 600 IUs and for those of us over age 70, the recommended amount is 800 IUs. The latter is because by the time we reach our 70s, our bodies’ ability to manufacture vitamin D can decrease up to twofold.
The health experts’ reasoning for this recommendation is based on various studies that suggested that there was an association between lower vitamin D levels and increased likelihood of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities.
Because of this association, they are theorizing that vitamin D deficiency can compromise our immune systems’ ability to fight off respiratory diseases, such as Covid-19. As a result, they say, if our vitamin D levels are low, we have a higher risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 and getting sicker if we do.
For boomers, this possible relationship between the severity of Covid-19 and vitamin D deficiency is important since being older simultaneously increases our risk for both. And the similarities between the two don’t end with age increasing our health risk.
In fact, the two (severity of Covid-19 and vitamin D deficiency) have similar risk profiles. For example, obesity increases risk for severe Covid-19 and reduces levels of vitamin D (vitamin D is stored in fat which makes it less available to our bodies to use). Given that boomer women have obesity rates approaching 40 percent, this gives us even more reason to manage our weight!
There is also evidence that people living in locations with less sunlight (which decreases the amount of vitamin D the body produces) have higher rates of Covid-19 than those living where there is more available sunlight.
Interestingly enough, this same relationship exists between sunlight and the seasonal flu – the incidence of which increases when we are stuck indoors during the winter with fewer hours of daily sunlight. Not getting enough sunlight outdoors is far more common than you may think, with only a little less than 8 percent of us getting enough.
I wish I could tell you that a certain level of vitamin D in your blood was high while another level is considered low. Unfortunately, there is still some debate about what ideal levels exactly are.
But to give you some reference, the Institute of Medicine recommends a level of 20 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) while the equally respected Endocrine Society recommends a minimum level of 30 ng/mL. The society later went a step further and recommended a range of between 40 ng/mL and 60 ng/mL.
Some health experts recommend that people should just take 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day. But since there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to nutrition and supplementation, it is important that you first have your vitamin D level tested and then discuss the results with a competent health care practitioner.
This gives you the opportunity to intelligently decide how to reach and maintain it based on your personal health profile. If your doctor recommends vitamin D supplements, be sure to only purchase those from a known manufacturer whose products are of good quality and have been tested by a reputable third party. Avoid any supplement that says “proprietary blend” on the label since you will have no real idea of what you are buying.
Of course, the best way to get the vitamin D your body needs is by getting enough sunlight. You really don’t need that much – for light skinned people, 10-15 minutes three times a week (without sunscreen) will do the trick.
If you have darker skin, which does not synthesize vitamin D from the sun as readily, you may need anywhere from one to three hours in the sun. Also, keep in mind that time of day, cloudiness, smog, and season can impact how well your body will be able to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight.
You may also include foods in your diet that are fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice and milk. Other foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, swordfish, and mackerel (be careful you’re not eating too much fish high in mercury). Tuna, sardines, mushrooms, egg yolk, and beef liver have some vitamin D too. It’s also a good idea to avoid high fructose corn syrup since this can deactivate vitamin D.
Oh, and if you need another reason to talk with your doctor about vitamin D, keep in mind that Dr. Anthony Fauci – known as “America’s Doctor” – recently mentioned that he takes vitamin D supplements!
Have you ever spoken with your health care provider about taking vitamin D supplements? If so, did she recommend them for you? Are you now taking them? How often and how much do you take? Have you noticed any difference in your health since taking them?