ot the sniffles? Take cod-liver oil! Getting the flu? Take cod-liver oil! Feeling tired and achy? Take cod-liver oil! Not sure why you’re feeling blue? Take cod-liver oil!
Those that know me, know I’m a huge advocate of cod-liver oil. It’s our “go-to” for vitamin D during the long, sunless winter months here in the North. If you live in a region “where the sun don’t shine“, have you ever noticed a “feel good” sensation after a good dose of Spring sun? Have you ever wondered why being outside on a sunny day makes you feel so energized? It’s most likely due to a boost in your vitamin D levels!
It’s said that over 50% of the population, unknowingly suffers from a vitamin D deficiency!
What is Vitamin D?
Funny enough, vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all, but rather a steroid hormone that our bodies were designed to obtain primarily through sun exposure, not our diet. Vitamin D is responsible for a whole host of bodily processes (read below for a list), and without which our bodies will suffer numerous, sometimes debilitating side-effects.
Why is the sun so important?
Sun exposure has been villainized, to the point that its importance is often overlooked. Most of us can’t change our geographical location, or make “Mother Nature” shine the sun everyday. In the past 30 years the sun’s rays have been demonized as cancer causing and harmful. We’re told to lather up with chemical-filled sunscreen for “protection” and avoid the harmful midday rays.
Unfortunately, we’ve been told a lie.
The supposed “harmful” rays of the sun are critical for our body to produce enough life giving vitamin D. The best sun for obtaining optimal vitamin D levels is midday, direct sunlight without a sunscreen barrier. (And lying in front of a sunny window won’t give you the results you’re looking for as the beneficial UVB rays don’t penetrate glass.)
How much sun do I need?
Please don’t read this as advice to sunbathe for hours on end this summer, there are healthy amounts of sun, and unhealthy amounts of sun. It’s important to know how much sun is right for you. This will vary from person to person based on age, skin-tone and geographical location/elevation. Generally speaking, 20 minutes of direct midday sun exposure on large areas of skin (face, neck/chest and arms) is a good start for maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D. You want to sit in the sun long enough for your skin to begin turning pink, but not burning. If you have a general idea of how long you can be in the sun before you get a sunburn, cut that time in half and start there. There are, however, certain people who will need to increase their sun exposure to maintain healthy vitamin D levels:
- Those with darker skin pigmentation (people whose ancestors are from Africa, India or the Middle East) will need as much as 10 times the amount of sunlight to produce the same amount of vitamin D as those with lighter complexions. This also holds true for those who tan well. As your skin pigment darkens toward the end of summer, you will require more sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as you did at the beginning of summer.
- Those over the age of 50 will require more sun as the body’s ability to produce vitamin D decreases with age.
- Those who are overweight or obese will need more vitamin D. (Please don’t go by the BMI scale, it’s incredibly inaccurate in measuring obesity…instead, check out this article for more accurate methods to measure for obesity.) Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble, hormone-like vitamin, excess body fat acts as a sponge to the vitamin D produced from sun exposure. Therefore, one who is overweight may need more sun to reap the benefits.
- Those who are pregnant. Pregnancy is taxing on a body, therefore those with child will require higher levels of vitamin D to ensure their own levels (as well as the levels of their child) remain in optimal range.
- Those with gut issues. When dealing with gastrointestinal conditions it may be necessary for greater amounts of vitamin D to ensure proper absorption.
Can I get vitamin D if I wear sunscreen?
Sunscreens are specifically designed to block UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. Since vitamin D production is reliant on adequate UVB radiation from the sun, those who wear sunscreen during sun exposure will not reap the benefits the sun has to offer.
If you’re going to be in the sun all day, wait 20 minutes or so before lathering up with an EWG approved sunscreen. (Knowing what’s in your lotion is important…it’s likely the harmful chemicals used to make certain sunscreens cause more damage than sun exposure alone.)
Why do we need vitamin D?
“Vitamin D regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.” (source) In a nutshell, vitamin D fights against infections, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases. It is responsible for DNA repair and metabolic processes. In other words, there’s not much our body does without utilizing the help of vitamin D.
Since our cells need the active form of vitamin D (not synthetic, such as many OTC vitamins) to function properly, the following functions can suffer without optimal levels of vitamin D:
- Overall health and maintenance
- Cellular growth and development
- Bone strength and health
- Blood sugar health
- Digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Blood pressure health
- Heart health
- Vascular system health
- Immune function
- Joint health
- Mood and overall feelings of well-being
- Neurological and cognitive health
- Muscular function
- Skin health
- Pancreatic function and health
- Healthy aging process
- Sleep patterns
- Hearing and vision
- Reproductive health
- Newborn health
- Athletic performance
- Respiratory function and health
- Carbohydrate and fat metabolism
- Metabolic rate
- Weight management
- Hair and hair follicles
How can I tell if I’m vitamin D deficient?
The only sure fire way of knowing exactly where your vitamin D levels are is to have them tested. You can do this by purchasing a home test kit, or have your levels tested by your doctor. Researchers are continually adding to the list of illnesses caused by vitamin D deficiencies but a few classic signs of vitamin D deficiencies include the following:
- Feeling achy or fatigued
- Feeling “blue” or mildly depressed
- Unusual head sweating
Remember, there are those who will need to be extremely proactive with their vitamin D levels.
- Those with darker skin
- Those over the age of 50
- Those who are overweight or obese (or even a higher muscle mass)
- Those who are pregnant
- Those with gut issues
What about vitamin D during the winter months?
Draw an imaginary line from Los Angeles, CA to Atlanta, GA on a map…it’s said if you live north of this line you cannot get adequate vitamin D from sun exposure November through mid-March. The angle of the sun is simply too low with not enough UVB penetration to provide adequate vitamin D production. (Unless, of course, you want to climb a 15,000 foot mountain and stand atop in your birthday suit for a good 15 minutes…in the dead of winter!)
How do I get enough vitamin D without the sun?
Since it’s impossible to get enough sun exposure each and every day (unless we pack our bags and move to the equator) we’re going to need a secondary source for vitamin D.
Never a fan of synthetic vitamins and supplements, we always opt to supplement with food when possible. Vitamin D rich foods include organ meats, skin and fat (from certain grass-fed/free-range land animals), shellfish and oily fish.
Our family chooses to “supplement” the sun during the winter months with cod-liver oil and high-vitamin butter oil. Although the cod-liver oil supplies adequate vitamin D, we pair it with high-vitamin butter oil (or a tablespoon of Kerrygold butter!) for the synergistic effects of vitamin K2 (an important co-factor for proper absorption of the vitamin D).
It’s also important your cod-liver oil have proper vitamin A to vitamin D ratios…for more on this, read this post. Our family has previously used this cod-liver oil, but always found it difficult to stomach, even when in pill form (cod-liver oil makes you burp, ya’ll!). We have since found this peppermint-lemon flavored cod-liver oil that comes highly recommended from the Weston A. Price website. We are extremely happy with the peppermint essential oils that win out over any “fishy” taste that may be present (even when “burped”!).
*How many times do you think I wrote “vitamin D” in this post?