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Updated on April 19, 2022
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D for Bone Health? 3 Ways to Load Up
Many of us know that vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, harnessing its health benefits from a humongous fiery star 93 million miles away, but it’s so much more than that…
Vitamin D can work wonders in warding off the common cold, regulating one’s mood, and strengthening bones. And when you’re not getting enough, your health—and your bone density—can suffer.
So…are you getting enough vitamin D? Could you be deficient without even knowing it?
Let’s take a closer look at what vitamin D is and all it has to offer…
Vitamin D for Bone Health
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found in small amounts in some foods (think: salmon, mushrooms, and egg yolks), but is primarily synthesized internally through sunlight exposure on your skin.
Vitamin D is prized for its ability to maintain calcium levels in the body. It does this by doing two things:
- Promoting the absorption of calcium in your gut.
- Maintaining blood serum levels of both calcium and phosphate to ensure proper bone mineralization (a process that—when done right—results in strong, hard bones).
When vitamin D is lacking in the body, one’s risk of osteoporosis can increase.
Vitamin D Deficiency Is More Common Than You Think
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is incredibly widespread. It’s estimated that about one billion people worldwide have a deficiency in vitamin D, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency (yes, you read that right—billion!). In the US alone, about 35% of the adult population is deficient in vitamin D (2).
So why is everyone missing out on this incredible nutrient?
There are several factors that affect vitamin D status, chief among them being sunlight exposure. About 50-90% of vitamin D is absorbed through sunlight, while the rest is obtained through diet.
The most vulnerable groups for vitamin D deficiency are elderly and obese populations, along with those that are hospitalized.
It's clear that getting enough exposure to sunlight is vital for vitamin D status. Still, there are a handful of other factors that can contribute to vitamin D deficiency as well. These include (3):
- Malabsorption syndromes like celiac disease, short bowel syndrome, gastric bypass, and cystic fibrosis that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D.
- Certain medications (like laxatives and steroids) that enhance the activity of enzymes (this speeds up the degradation of vitamin D in your body).
- Chronic liver disease or chronic kidney disease, because of the role these organs play in the activation of vitamin D.
Considering the way modern life is designed today, with most people spending their days working inside buildings with no natural light, it’s no surprise that so many are deficient in vitamin D.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Fractures and falls
Heart disease and cancer are the top two leading causes of death in the US, so vitamin D is essential to keeping our population healthier (4).
How Do You Know If You Have Low Vitamin D Levels?
With the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the United States, keeping an eye on your vitamin D status is essential.
This is especially important if you’re over 60, take certain medications, work inside most of the time, are overweight, or have a darker skin complexion. If you have any underlying gastrointestinal issues or diseases of the liver or kidney, you may also be at greater risk of deficiency.
The signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include fatigue, muscle pain or cramps, or mood changes. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be attributed to a number of different conditions, which makes it challenging to pinpoint vitamin D deficiency through signs and symptoms alone.
Therefore, the best way to stay on top of your vitamin D status is to get your levels checked by your doctor.
How to Support Your Vitamin D Levels, Naturally
If your vitamin D levels are low, or you’re concerned that they are, there are several ways that you can naturally boost your vitamin D status.
Some of the most effective ways include…
1. Getting 20 Minutes of Sunshine Daily
Since sunlight exposure accounts for 50 to 90% of vitamin D absorption, a little time outdoors goes a long way. Research shows that twenty minutes of sunshine daily, with over 40% of your skin exposed, is required to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Getting outside more often is a breezy way to boost your vitamin D—all while reaping the calming benefits of fresh air at the same time! Even a few short walks throughout the day or eating lunch outside can make a difference (3).
2. Taking a Vitamin D3 + K2 Supplement
For many people, taking a vitamin D supplement daily is the simplest way to reap the benefits.
Research shows that globally, up to 47% of vitamin D intake may come from vitamin D supplementation.
When looking for a vitamin D supplement, be sure to choose one that includes vitamin D3 as opposed to D2. Research shows that vitamin D3 (which is primarily found in animal sources) is far superior at raising the levels of vitamin D in your body compared to vitamin D2 (5).
Vitamin D2 tends to be cheaper too, so some supplement manufacturers may try to cut corners by offering this less bioavailable option. Be sure to read the label on any vitamin D supplement you buy to ensure that it’s vitamin D3.
3. Choosing Foods Rich in Vitamin D
One way vitamin D differs from most other vitamins and minerals is that food is not going to be your primary source…
Unfortunately, most nutritional sources of vitamin D provide only small amounts of the nutrient, so sunlight and supplementation are going to be your best bet.
With that being said, there are certain foods like fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, and sardines) and mushrooms (shiitake in particular) that can help increase your vitamin D intake (8).
The Bottom Line
If osteopenia, osteoporosis, or general bone health is at the forefront of your mind, your vitamin D levels should be one of the first things addressed.
Natural ways to keep your body’s vitamin D at a healthy level are by getting twenty minutes of sunshine daily, taking a vitamin D3 + K2 supplement, and eating foods that are rich in vitamin D.
The simplest way to stay consistent with your vitamin D intake is with an oil tincture. With just one dropperful a day, you’ll be well on your way to stronger, sturdier bones—and a sunnier future.
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped millions of people improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #OnThePath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.