benefits of vitamin d madison wi
Herbs, Vitamins, & Supplements

Why You Need Vitamin D (Even When You’re Outside a Lot)

Disclaimer: The following information has not been approved by the FDA. This information should not be interpreted as medical advice and is not a substitute for a visit with a medical care professional. Always speak to your doctor about any health concerns. 

Vitamin D — the vitamin that our doctors remind us to take all winter to help keep away the winter blues (or Seasonal Affective Disorder). It’s the vitamin for a mood-boost and a pick-me-up, right?

Well, you’re not wrong, but there’s actually a lot more Vitamin D contributes to your well-being than just a mid-winter remedy for keeping away the doldrums. It’s actually an incredibly important nutrient that:

  • Affects our absorption of calcium
  • Regulates immune function
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Can help us fend off serious diseases, including cancer

And here’s the thing — most of us aren’t getting enough of it.  Even people who are outside a lot!

Studies show that approximately 50% of our population is deficient in vitamin D. We know what you’re thinking — most of the population doesn’t get much sun! Vitamin D is produced in the body when UVB light from the sun hits our skin. But this deficiency isn’t restricted to climates, borders, or weather patterns. Even people who live in sunny states and those who are outside frequently are often still deficient.

But, I Get Plenty of Sunshine!

Don’t get us wrong. We absolutely believe you when you say you’re soaking in the rays on a regular basis. Bicyclists, hikers, gardeners, farmers, and outdoor enthusiasts often spend hours on end in the sunshine during the warm months in the Midwest.

But here are three reasons why all your sunny hours are probably not doing much for you.

Sitting in a sunny car or window will not supply you with Vitamin D.

Relaxing on a sun-soaked glass patio or curling up in warm rays like a cat on the carpet feels amazing (especially after a long, chilly winter). But that warmth is deceptive. D-producing UVB rays can’t pass through glass, so no matter how many hours you sit there, you’re not going to be boosting your vitamin D.

In fact, please DON’T just sit there. UVB rays won’t penetrate the glass, but UVA light will. UVA rays are the ones responsible for skin damage, skin cancer, wrinkles, and premature aging. These rays have no problem giving you a burn through the glass. So, even if you’re getting tan in that sunny window, you aren’t getting Vitamin D. Sunny windows give you all of the risks and none of the benefits of sunshine.

In fact, a study in 2009 noted that there has been a steady and rapid increase in cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) in fair-skinned, indoor workers. (Curiously, outdoor workers do not have an increased incidence of CMM.) The hypothesis is that indoor exposure to UVA passing through windows exposes workers to risk, but none of the beneficial UVB rays which provide vitamin D.

Did you put on sunscreen? Then you’re not absorbing!

Don’t misunderstand us — we’re not advocating a trip to your local pool without a hefty amount of sun protection in your beach bag. (Skin cancer is definitely far worse than a deficiency in vitamin D.) If you’re exposed to sunshine for extended periods of time, even in winter, use some form of sun protection. We have low-chemical, zero-toxin sunscreen options in our store.

But you do need to understand that when you put on sunscreen, you are blocking the beneficial UVB rays that would be supplying you with large doses of vitamin D.

If you’re outside frequently, we’d suggest opting out of sun protection for at least some small periods of time to allow your skin to soak in vitamin D. Choose morning or evening hours when the sun isn’t so strong, and be mindful of your skin. A little sunshine can go a long way, and you don’t want to overexpose.

Even those who get tons of sun and live in tropical climates are consistently deficient in vitamin D.

You’d think that vitamin D deficiencies are only a problem in areas with long dark winters. But, surprisingly, that’s not true. Dr. Frank Shallenburger notes in his newsletter a phenomenon which isn’t localized to his practice. He found that it is rare for patients to have vitamin D levels above 40 ng/ml, which is definitely too low. But many of those people got plenty of sun exposure or were from climates where plenty of sunshine is a given (Arizona, Florida, and other southern states.)

Research performed by the University of Wisconsin measured vitamin D levels of people living in Hawaii. Their study showed that even those with substantial sun exposure each day were still deficient.

Their conclusion? Even large amounts of sun exposure (up to 1 ½ hours per day with no sunscreen) may not be enough to keep our vitamin D levels at the optimum level.

The old rule of thumb was 15 minutes a day on your face and arms. This was thought to be plenty of sunshine and something that most of us can easily achieve throughout the warm months of the year.

But if that’s ‘enough’, why do blood tests prove again and again that at least half of our population is still deficient?

Even if you are absorbing a healthy amount, most of us are so deficient that we can’t absorb enough to ‘catch up’.

If you spend plenty of time outdoors, your body can produce up to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D. This seems like a lot — and it is! But sometimes ‘a lot’ can’t really make up the deficit that most of us are dealing with. A lot of us are so deficient in vitamin D, that the sun literally can’t provide enough for our bodies to get back to optimum levels. (We’re assuming that, like most of us, you don’t have several years of your life to devote to sunbathing.)

The remaining option is to actively pursue vitamin D-rich foods and supplement your diet and sunshine with a high-quality Vitamin D supplement.

So, I’m deficient. What’s the big deal?

Deficiency in any vital nutrient or vitamin is a big deal. Vitamin D is no different. Scientists have connected low levels of vitamin D with:

    • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
    • Cognitive impairment in older adults
    • Severe asthma in children
    • Cancer

Conversely, appropriately high levels of vitamin D can actually play a role in preventing and treating a number of conditions, including:

    • Type1 and type 2 diabetes
    • Hypertension
    • Glucose imbalance
    • Multiple sclerosis

Some studies indicate that vitamin D can also help the immune system, mood regulation, blood pressure, and even help fend off certain cancers.

How do I Know if I’m deficient in Vitamin D?

Easy. Get a blood test.

Subpar levels of vitamin D don’t have clear symptoms, although gloomy moods, weakened immune system responses, and fatigue can all be indications. Most of the possible results are big picture, such as osteoporosis. Breast cancer, neurological disorders, inhibited pancreatic function may also point to chronically low vitamin D, but we’d suggest looking into it well before any such problems arise.

The best way to know if your vitamin D is low is to add a blood test to your yearly routine check-up. Typically, this is a part of a yearly blood panel anyway, but even if it isn’t, it’s relatively cheap to request. A blood test is the only way you’ll know for sure if you’re deficient.

Where can I get Vitamin D?

You’ve got three sources. Obviously, sunlight is at the top of this list. Secondly, you can absorb vitamin D from some foods.

    • Fish oil (especially cod liver oil)
    • Fresh fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, and sardines)
    • Seafood (oysters, shrimp)
    • Raw milk
    • Eggs
    • Mushrooms

If you are a vegan, it’s pretty much a given that you should be supplementing your Vitamin D levels.

Lastly, you can get vitamin D through supplementation. There are a few parameters for choosing a vitamin D supplement, however.

    • Choose a high-quality vitamin D. Not all vitamins are created equally, and this isn’t a place where you want a manufacturer to cut corners. Find a local nutrition store you trust, and ask for their recommendation. We recommend Solgar, Pure Encapsulation, and Megafood. Each of these brands has several IU options.
    • The chances that you’re NOT deficient are extremely slim, so adding a lower dose vitamin D to your daily dose of vitamins is almost definitely a good idea. However, you may not want to leap into industrial-strength supplements head first. We recommend getting a blood test to ascertain where your levels are at and ask for a recommendation from your medical provider. A common dose is between 500 IUs to 5,000 IUs, while severely deficient individuals may require up to 10,000 IUs or more.

Find Your Healthy Place

At The Healthy Place, we’re here to answer questions and help you find your best health choices. If you want to ask our Wellness Consultants about your concerns, their recommendations, or recommended medical resources near our Madison nutrition stores, give us a call. After all, we’re here to help you find your healthy place!



*Disclaimer: All information and recommendations given on this site, in email correspondence, newsletters or other materials provided by The Healthy Place is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice nor be viewed as a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider. Consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before modifying, stopping, or starting the use of any medications, health programs, diets, and/or supplements, as well as regarding any health concerns you may have. Our statements and information have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As with any health-related program, product, or service, your risks and results may vary. We expressly disclaim responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the information provided to you here.”

The Healthy Place – Apple Wellness
6313 McKee Road Suite 100
Fitchburg, WI 53719

The Healthy Place – Apple Wellness
550 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717

The Healthy Place – Apple Wellness
2824 Prairie Lakes Drive Suite 108
Sun Prairie, WI 53590

Rynn Jacobson is Content Marketing Director. She's passionate about educating people on natural and alternative health and wellness options. Her favorite ways to stay healthy are drinking herbal tea and hiking in the mountains.

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