Vitamin D Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that we store this vitamin in our fat, and we also need fat for the absorption of this vitamin. It can be acquired though digestion of foods such as fish, supplements, or from the conversion of cholesterol in the skin to Vitamin D by the action of the sun.
How wonderful we can get a vitamin just from enjoying the sunshine kissing our skin.
Vitamin D2 (known as calciferol) is a synthetic form of vitamin D, whereas vitamin D3 is the natural form found in fish liver oils. D3 can also be made synthetically by ultraviolet irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is a derivative of cholesterol. So is it possible that cholesterol lowering drugs could affect our vitamin D levels?
Because vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract as well as the breakdown of phosphorus required for bone formation, vitamin D is needed for good bone and teeth development and protection.
Vitamin D can be helpful in maintaining a stable nervous system, normal heart rate, and normal blood clotting, due to its relationship to calcium and phosphorus. Supplemental vitamin D is best taken with vitamin A, so fish liver oils that contain both are a good way to get both (cod liver oil).
Vitamin D is absorbed along with fat in the intestinal walls with the aid of bile from the gall bladder. After absorption or formation from the skin, vitamin D is transported to the liver for storage but can also be found in the skin, brain, spleen, and bones. The body can store quite a lot of Vitamin D, but an excess can cause high levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood, which can lead to hypercalcaemia, which is calcification of blood vessels and kidney tubules.
It is believed that vitamin D and the parathyroid hormone work together to regulate the transport of calcium, so a deficiency can lead to tetany, a condition characterised by muscle numbness, tingling and spasms. Some say that vitamin D deficiency can also cause myopia (near sightedness).
Sunlight is made up of two different types of ultraviolet radiation called UVA and UVB. Ultraviolet A (UVA) is what causes skin damage, wrinkles, and skin cancer, but it is the ultraviolet B (UVB) that allows the cholesterol in our skin to convert this radiation into vitamin D.
Interestingly, the UVA is more prevalent in the early and late hours of sunlight and the UVB is more prevalent in the hottest hours of the day, but care still needs to be taken not to get burnt as the middle of the day can be very harsh on the skin. Depending on the time of year and where you live, you may only need 10-15mins daily of this sunlight to get adequate vitamin D.
If you are indoors all day, a quick walk in the sun at lunchtime can do the trick. It is still best to shade your face with hat and glasses as the face has very delicate skin that can be easily damaged, but exposure on your arms and legs may be all you need.
On a cold day, sitting in a protected spot in the sun can make all the difference, not only to your vitamin D levels but also your mood as the sun helps to prevent SAD (Seasonally Affective Disorder) which is a type of depression that comes from lack of light going into the retina.
We have what is called a reticular endocrine system, which basically means the activation of sun through the retina in our eyes supports our hormones and mood. We only need a couple of seconds of sunlight (without glasses) with rapidly blinking eyes, to get the light needed to keep us happy and hormonally balanced for the day.
We also get what are called beta-endorphins made in the skin from exposure to sunlight, which is another reason why we feel better when we’ve been in the sun (endorphins are ‘happy’ hormones).
Many people refute the idea of sensible sun exposure to benefit from vitamin D, suggesting that there is no safe level of radiation from the sun, not even one minute. Many doctors and specialists who have written books and theses on the advantages of vitamin D from the sun have even been asked to ‘stand down’ from their positions as reputable doctors/specialists by the medical system.
But times are changing and even cancer councils (for skin cancer protection) are now saying that, yes indeed, we should get some sensible sun exposure. There are now even apps to help us get just the right amount without risking skin damage and cancer.
An interesting note about skin cancers is that the non-melanomas (BCC’s and SCCs) are found in areas of the body with the most exposure to the sun, especially those whose jobs involve working in the sun like gardeners, council workers, and trades people, but the deadlier melanomas are usually found in non-sun exposed areas.
There are some who hypothesize that with the skin being the largest organ of elimination in the body, that skin cancer is a sign of a toxic body clearing its toxins via the skin, showing itself, so that it can be removed. Food for thought? (For more see my article The Benefits of Sunlight)
Symptoms of excess vitamin D
Vitamin D from food and sunlight will rarely cause any problems but with supplementation there is risk of having too much vitamin D. This can cause symptoms such as:
- Increased urination
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Calcification of the heart, blood vessels and lungs
These symptoms can drop after stopping the vitamin D supplementation.
Why are we deficient in vitamin D?
These days, because many are concerned to get skin cancer, they cover their bodies with clothes, hats, sunglasses and sunscreens, and do not get enough vitamin D from the sun. There are of course some food sources which we will look at soon, but often these foods are not readily eaten, so there is now a growing number of people with vitamin D deficiency.
Also, kids and adults used to spend more time outdoors, but now many spend lots of time focusing on their phones, computers, game stations and televisions.
There is a growing body of evidence that links many disorders to low vitamin D levels, such as auto-immune diseases, heart disease, osteoporosis, some cancers and even fatigue. Vitamin D deficiency is now considered to be pandemic in many countries around the world. That’s serious!
Like a lot of nutritional testing that can be done with blood, you need to have your level in the ‘optimal range’ not just ‘within’ the range. Optimal vitamin D should be near the top end of the reference range. The reference range is usually the amount written inside the brackets next to your level. Different countries and different labs use different reference ranges so I’m not providing the levels, but your test results will give you an idea.
Always get a copy of any of your results so you can see for yourself and show another practitioner if needed. You own the results, and it is best not to be just told, “All your levels are fine”, because this doesn’t mean that your test results are ‘optimal’, just that they are not severely deficient.
This really has nothing to do with vitamin D (maybe?) but it’s interesting.
This is a case study I would like to share that happened in my clinic about 20 years ago. At the time, apart from my naturopathy and nutrition work, I also performed colon hydrotherapy to help detoxify the body.
A client who came to see me was terribly stressed, overworked and incredibly constipated. She came for help with headaches and when we discussed toxicity she spoke about her bowel habits.
We decided on a plan of action that included the use of colon hydrotherapy (washing out the colon with purified warm water to soften the impaction) and she also had some magnesium and B vitamins to help her stress, plus some changes to her diet to make it easier on her digestive system.
At the time of her consultations and treatments, she didn’t mention that she had numerous skin cancers on her body, until she came in after having a session with her doctor (she hadn’t told me because she didn’t think it was relevant).
Apparently she had so many skin cancers on her back, legs and forearms that the doctor wanted to give her a general anaesthetic to remove them all at once, but she had to wait for several weeks to be ‘fitted in’.
In the meantime, we continued with her cleanse and by the time she went to the doctor for her pre-op examination (to put circles around the spots) they were all gone.
She hadn’t even looked at them herself, and I didn’t notice them as she was always covered. She was never one to go out in the sun (so perhaps her Vitamin D levels were low). She did not know how she possibly got them – but now they were gone.
Now I’m not saying to run out and have colon hydrotherapy to treat skin cancers by any means, but when you think about it, your skin is your largest organ of elimination, so if something else in the elimination pathways is not doing its job properly, then it makes sense that the skin will push out toxins.
A dear friend once suggested to me that the sun is a purifier of the toxins that are in our body, pulling them to the surface to be noticed and healed (possibly by excision). This is certainly not a claim and I wouldn’t want you to ignore any skin cancers that you may have, but it’s worth considering that if we have a healthy body, we also help our skin to be healthy.
PS: I don’t do colonic hydrotherapy anymore.
Depending on who you speak to or research, you can find the amount of vitamin D we need varies depending on your sun exposure, time of year, medical history and age. The average consensus is that children, teens and healthy adults need around 400 IU/day for maintenance and those with health conditions often need around 2,000-5000 IU/day of vitamin D if they get little or no sun exposure.
Note: IU stands for International Units and is not a unit of weight, but a unit of concentration or potency, commonly used for vaccines, medications, and some vitamins, including vitamin D.
Sensible sun exposure and eating foods rich in Vitamin D (see below) will usually give you adequate levels of vitamin D to maintain good health.
For example, we love to eat salmon regularly and our portion size is usually around 130g which gives us about 600IU of vitamin D. Other days we may each eat 150g of liver, or 2 eggs, or sardines and go out into the sun.
On days that we don’t eat any of these foods or have no time to be in the sun, we take a supplement of around 1000IU. It is a good idea to get your blood levels tested via your doctor in mid-winter to check that you have enough vitamin D to keep your body happy and healthy.
Because most food sources rich in vitamin D are seafood or animal products, it means that vegans and vegetarians usually need to rely on sunshine and Vitamin D supplementation. Vegetarians who eat a lot of eggs fare better.
- Cod liver oil – 1 tsp contains 440 IU
- Sardines – 3oz/85g contains 165 IU
- Salmon – 3oz/85g contains 400 IU
- Mackerel – 3oz/85g contains 400 IU
- Tuna – 3oz/85g contains 230 IU
- Eggs – 1(large) contains 40 IU
- Liver (any animal) – 3.5oz/100g contains 12 IU (average)
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.