This past week I felt sluggish, irritable, and like I was constantly fighting a cold coming on. I’m currently sitting in the sun on one of the first warm days in a while. I still don’t feel 100%, but I know this is exactly what I need to feel better.

Feeling sluggish, mentally down, and like you’re constantly coming down with something are all common signs of vitamin D deficiency. Over 90% of the population in the United States is believed to have a vitamin D  deficiency (1). It’s difficult to get adequate vitamin D in the winter, so whenever I notice myself feeling that way during the colder seasons I assume it has something to do with lack of sunshine, and I make sure to increase my intake.

If you’re feeling like you need to increase your vitamin D, keep reading to see signs of deficiency, how long to expose yourself to the sun (sunscreen free), and a list of vitamin d-rich foods.

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Important to know about vitamin D

Our body ultimately converts ‘vitamin D’ into a steroid hormone that impacts our skeletal structure, immunity, blood pressure, mood, brain function and ability to protect ourselves from cancer. (2)  We can’t expect to be feeling our best when we lack something that’s so highly correlated to how we feel physically and emotionally.

Signs of vitamin D deficiency

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • depression
  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • weak or broken bones
  • weakened immune system
  • inflammation and swelling

Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to the below problems: (3)

  • depression
  • insomnia
  • arthritis
  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • autism
  • multiple sclerosis
  • chronic pain
  • psoriasis
  • fibromyalgia
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer
  • autoimmune diseases
  • osteoporosis

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How long to expose yourself to the sun sunscreen free

Direct exposure to the sun is actually the best way to absorb vitamin D. When you sit in the sun unexposed for 10 minutes you absorb around 10,000 units of natural vitamin D. Most integrative doctors recommend a daily vitamin D intake of 5,000 units per day for adults, 35 units per pound for children below 5, and 2,500 units per day for ages 5-10.

It’s important to note that: 

  • If you have darker skin, you need more time in the sun to absorb units (around 40 minutes for 10,000 units). 
  • If you live further from the equator (U.S. mid-states or farther north) then you need closer to an hour a day.
  • If it’s winter, double all recommended time in the sun.

Usually, 10-15 minutes of exposure of the arms and legs, or the hands, arms, and face, 2-3 time per week, in conjunction with increased dietary and supplemental intake, are enough to guarantee vitamin D sufficiency. (2)

Vitamin D-rich foods:

  1. Halibut
  2. Carp Fish
  3. Mackerel
  4. Eel
  5. Maitake Mushrooms
  6. Morel Mushrooms
  7. Salmon
  8. Whitefish
  9. Portabella Mushrooms
  10. Shiitake Mushrooms
  11. Chanterelle Mushrooms, raw
  12. Swordfish
  13. Rainbow Trout
  14. Cod Liver Oil
  15. Sardines
  16. Tuna
  17. Eggs
  18. Plant milk (almond, coconut, cashew, soy) fortified with Vitamin D

The two major causes of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of sun exposure and the use of sunscreen. Implement a combination of increased vitamin d-rich foods, limited time in sunscreen-free sun exposure, and supplements (if needed) and you should be fine. If you think you may be severely deficient, ask your doctor to test your levels. 

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