Is Where You Live Making You Sick? Examining Vitamin D Deficiency
Why Am I So Tired?
I had been comatose for some time - walking around as if I had lead in my boots. I could not seem to stay awake at my desk or in meetings. When spring came and I tried to do yard work, I felt like I was slogging through mud. The final straw came one day at work when I fell asleep sitting in front of my computer. What woke me up? A noise - I was actually snoring.
When I visited my doctor she suggested something I had not thought of previously – checking my vitamin D level. She said she was finding a lot of lower levels in some of her patients given that we live in Pennsylvania where the winters are long and bleak.
The phone call came as a bit of a surprise. My levels, said the nurse, were at 4. According to Livestrong.com, “A normal range of vitamin D in your blood from the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test is between 30 and 74 ng/mL, or nanograms per milliliter.” I was immediately put on prescription strength vitamin D and the results were surprisingly fast.
What Does Vitamin D do?
Just what does vitamin D do? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Vitamin D is a nutrient found in some foods that is needed for health and to maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.”
Vitamin D can be found in a variety of foods like fatty fish, even liver and cheese. U.S. Milk and many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D. According to the NIH, "The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun, and most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way."
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the Latitude Factor
Harvard Health Publications sites a Swedish medical journal when they list factors that affect your vitamin D level. The first on the list, “The latitude where you live. At higher latitudes, the amount of vitamin D–producing UVB light reaching the earth’s surface goes down in the winter because of the low angle of the sun. In Boston, for example, little if any of the vitamin is produced in people’s skin tissue from November through February. Short days and clothing that covers legs and arms also limit UVB exposure.”
According to NIH, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is prevalent when vitamin D stores are typically low.” WebMD reports SAD as, “a type of depression that affects a person during the same season each year…but it is more common in people who live in areas where winter days are very short or there are big changes in the amount of daylight in different seasons.
How Much Vitamin D Should I take?
So how much vitamin D should you take? Dr. Frank Lipman, Founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center suggests, “Most important is that you take vitamin D3, (cholecalciferol) the active form of vitamin D. Do not take vitamin D2 as it is not as biologically active nor as effective. . .The current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: from 200 to 600 IU/day depending on one's age, are way too low.” Lipman recommends 2,000-4,000 IU daily depending on age, weight, season, how much time is spent outdoors, where one lives, skin color and obviously blood levels. If there is any question on how much vitamin D you should be taking daily, contact your doctor.
Sunshine in a Bottle
Since my personal experience with low vitamin D levels, I keep a bottle in my cupboard and take it regularly especially during the winter months when sunlight in my state is in short supply. It helps keep the lead out of my boots and keeps me awake at my desk – like sunshine in a bottle.
"9 Things That Can Undermine Your Vitamin D Level." Harvard Health Publications. N.p., 30 Aug. 2011. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D." National Institute of Health: QuickFacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Gloth, FM 3rd, W. Alam, and B. Hollis. "Vitamin D vs Broad Spectrum Phototherapy in the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1999. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Lipman, Dr. Frank. "Vitamin D: What You Need To Know." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Oct. 2009. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Pritchard, Joseph. "Normal Ranges of Vitamin D and D2." LIVESTRONG.COM. N.p., 18 July 2011. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
"Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Causes and Risk Factors." WebMD. WebMD, 03 Jan. 0000. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.