D is for deadline.
D is for done
D is for delight, and dancing, and divine joy.
D is for “dang, it’s nice to be here again.”
D is for a few other things, too:
Dog hair, of which we have too much.
Drama, which my children offer in copious amounts.
Dude, where’s my car? A film I have not seen.
D is also a vitamin. Vitamin D is the “it” vitamin lately. Actually, it is not really a vitamin at all, but a hormone. But never mind that. Do you hear about vitamin D all the time? Because I hear about it all the time. If you live near me, you surely have heard much about it lately; during our public radio station’s last fund drive, literally hours and hours of physician interviews about vitamin D were played over the airwaves.
Winter is hard for me. I get tired, I get sick, I grow weary. Colds come and go. It is dark early. When it is not dark, it is gray: trees, skies, the earth: all of it. Days stretch on. Some mornings, it is hard to get out of bed.
Almost a year ago, I mentioned on this blog that we had all been sick. Sick as dogs, I said. Anna, one of my favorite commenters, suggested that we should get our vitamin D levels checked. Because D is often for “deficient,” which apparently the vast majority of us are, particularly those of us who live in places with dark, cold winters.
Could this deficiency be related to my wanting to take to my bed during the cold winter months, like some tragic character in a Victorian novel? Maybe. And maybe it could do much more than that.
Every time I hear another study about vitamin D, I’m all, “No way. Nuh-uh. don’t believe it..” Because sometimes D is for dubious.
But as we hurtle toward another New England winter — one that is surely going to be filled with viruses — I started looking into the vitamin D connection, and I have to say: D can also be for dumbstruck. Because the research — I’m talking peer-reviewed research, mind you — suggests that a little boost to my vitamin D could go a long way toward curing the winter blues. And so much more.
Our bodies, these amazing things of ours, convert sunlight to vitamin D. That vitamin D helps us absorb calcium, as well as to regulate cells. But even in the best of circumstances many of us don’t get much sun in the winter — especially not when our latitude is roughly the same as that of Toronto, Canada. Way up here, the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. Literally: some of us live way up here where the sun don’t shine. even in the warmer months, we have office jobs, homework, meals cooked in indoor kitchens, teevee time, car trips, and so forth. Suddenly it’s not hard to understand why 70% of children and even more adults and teens are deficient in the stuff.
So our vitamin D in the winter months is limited. If we could boost our D-levels, we could probably reduces mood disorders, like PMS, depression, seasonal affective disorders, and other mood disorders. But that’s just the beginning.
Mind you: D is for doctor, which I am decidedly not.
And also: D is also for dietitian. Again, I am not.
Just start scanning some of the almost 47,000 peer-reviewed studies, and you will find that having sufficient vitamin D levels is associated with lower risks of overall and cardiovascular mortality, cancer incidence and mortality, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Can I just repeat that for a minute? The research suggests that Vitamin D lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
It can also other things, like lower your risk of diabetes.
If you’re elderly, it can reduce your risk of falls. Not just aid your bones when you do fall, mind you, but actually reduce your risk of falling in the first place. (really? wow.) It might mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Look, I know there’s a ton of junk science out there, but we’re talking peer-reviewed literature here. Even if only some of what they say is true, it’s still pretty darned impressive.
So here’s my question: what are we to do about all of this? Most of us need to increase our vitamin D levels. Got it. But by how much? And how? Some say more sun is the answer, but then dermatologists remind us of that pesky skin cancer thing. There’s also food: sardines, salmon, cod, fish liver oils, and eggs, but even that seems to be not enough for most people. Meanwhile, your vitamin D levels have everything to do with how much sun you get, what your latitude is, how dark your skin is, what you eat, your weight, age, and other lifestyle factors. Which is to say: I don’t know what you you need.
The best bet is to get your D-levels tested; ideally by a physician. I say this, but of course I haven’t actually done it yet. Because sometimes D is for “Do not,” as in “I do not follow my own advice.” You can just go ahead and start taking supplements; one article published in the British Journal of Dermatology said that “At present, most experts in the field agree that the evidence to date suggests that daily intake of 1000-2000 IU vitamin D could reduce the incidence of vitamin D-deficiency-related diseases with minimal risk in Europe, the US, and other countries.” Note that that was published just this month. Because sometimes D is for “Date,” as in “Up-to-date.”
Be careful, though: you can take too many supplements, leading to a build-up of calcium in the blood. Sometimes D is for don’t go overboard, please.
Me? I’ve started taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 each day. At some point, I’ll get my levels tested, too. I’m also trying to boost my fish consumption (in the words of Bruce, the evil/kind shark from Finding Nemo, “I’m having fish for dinner tonight!”). Will I maintain my winter-time mojo this year? Maybe. I will let you know.
Anyhow, here’s the comment from Anna that first kicked off my research:
Have you had your Vit D levels checked? Unless you get/make enough Vit D all summer, you don’t make any Vit D during the winter in your neck of the woods. Everyone of my Upstate NY family has tested this winter as severely deficient in Vit D, including the 13 and 15 yo nieces, one of whom has spinal bone issues. Everyone except my dad (he listens to me) avoids the sun, uses a lot of sunscreen, thought the D2 additive in their skimmed milk was adequate, and/or relied on a puny amount of D2 in a multivitamin. Additionally, D in cheaper tablets is not well absorbed; D3 in oil capsules or drops is far superior. Low fat diets also hinder Vit D absorption from food and supplements. All foods that contain natural Vit D also come with fat, btw.
I’m not terribly into taking vitamins (I prefer nutritious food instead). But it’s hard to get enough Vit D3 from our food, since we evolved to get it from sun (not D2 the synthetic additive in milk, but rather D3, the same molecule we make in response to midday unfiltered sun exposure on our skin). Even living in So Cal, with indoor lifestyles, some use of sunscreen to prevent sunburns, clothing, etc., most people I know who have tested their levels were deficient or very low in the reference range without adequate supplementation. Even with a high amount of the foods that do naturally contain D3 (egg yolks from outdoor chickens, grass-fed whole milk, liver from outdoor mammals, poultry, as well as wild caught fish liver, etc. – in other words, not CAFO food).
When it comes to Anna, D is for Darned Smart.
Want more? There’s a nice article on vitamin D, authored by an MD (though not, I will point out, peer-reviewed) in Mother Earth News.
And now, d is about to be for darn, I really need another cup of coffee.