Image - @purienne
We’ve all heard of Vitamin D, and most of us are probably aware that we don't have adequate levels of it flowing in our body. There is a reason why it is the 3rd most used supplement among global populations, and it’s because most individuals living in the modern world do not receive adequate skin exposure to sunlight nor is their cellular health balanced enough to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D for optimal wellbeing.
It is a common misconception that 15 to 20 minutes of sunlight a day is sufficient enough to keep our vitamin D at a healthy level, but the latest science has revealed that up to 3-4 hours of direct sun exposure to an average skin tone is necessary. Even those who have darker skin are also typically deficient in vitamin D, as melanin absorbs UV light from the sun, preventing it from activating the vitamin D precursor hanging around in the superficial layers of the skin.
Individuals with low vitamin D have consistently been observed as being more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, poor organ function, as well as poor mental health. There are dozens of diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, and autoimmune diseases that can be prevented by healthy vitamin D levels.
But how exactly does vitamin D work throughout the body to provide the immune, mood, and musculoskeletal health associated with vitamin D? Here, we break down each of the major benefits that one may experience with adequate levels or supplementation.
Cognitive Function & Health
Low levels of vitamin D may be involved in the pathogenesis of depression in several ways. In human beings, the distribution of the vitamin D receptor seems to occur in high concentration in the hypothalamus, the brain center responsible for all autonomous functions of the body. Moreover, the distribution of vitamin D receptors suggest they directly interact with major neurotransmitters, male and female sex hormones, thyroid hormone, and dopamine/serotonin production. All previously mentioned pathways and compounds are directly related to mood and depressive states.
On sunny days, the brain has a marked increase in serotonin production: the brain’s happy hormone that improves your mood and alleviates the severity of anxiety and mild forms of depression. Most commonly associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), one of the major reasons a lot of people experience drops in their mood during the year’s colder months is due to a lack of direct sunlight exposure. This takes place due to vitamin D’s role as an enzyme activator in the serotonin production pathway that relies on the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin precursor.
Healing Skin Conditions
Topically, sunlight can vastly improve certain skin conditions that otherwise don’t bode a lot of options in finding a cure. Conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and other fungal skin infections can greatly benefit and possibly even fully heal when direct sunlight is applied regularly and intentionally. Many times, a dermatologist will prescribe UV light treatment as a means to heal from uncomfortable aforementioned skin conditions, especially in locations with minimal sunlight throughout the year. Sunlight produces electromagnetic frequencies that damage the DNA and RNA of microbes, yeast, or fungi, killing them and preventing further replication. Under the surface, Vitamin D receptor binding activates white blood cells which aids in clearing pathogenic microbes while regulating the immune response. Still for those in sunnier climates, getting outside and into the direct sunlight can greatly benefit your skin in diminishing the side effects of certain skin conditions, relieving discomfort and clearing up the surface entirely.
Circling back to serotonin and neurotransmitter regulation, getting healthy doses of sunlight tells the brain to produce and release certain chemicals that trigger a lift in your mood as well as better sleep. Sunlight is the driving force for the sleep wake cycle that relies on a spike of cortisol in the morning followed by a gradual decline throughout the day, giving way to serotonin and melatonin at night. Melatonin is a converted form of serotonin, released from the brain in response to darkness or night time. Without direct sunlight to stimulate Vitamin D production and thus the production of serotonin and melatonin in skin cells, the body becomes unable to properly fall into its natural rest cycle at night. This becomes even more problematic with extended blue light exposure into the late hours of the night, preventing melatonin release in the brain.
Multiple studies have been linked with the supplementation of vitamin D and it’s impact on glycemic indices in diabetes. Vitamin D impacts the function of beta-cells by mediating calcium flux, possibly increasing both insulin secretion from the pancreas and insulin sensitivity in tissues throughout the body. Population studies have found that lower vitamin D levels are commonly associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as a number of other metabolic comorbidities as the fragile tissues of the body are easily damaged as cellular function decreases.
There is strong clinical evidence to suggest that vitamin D can prevent and treat certain cardiovascular diseases. It plays a critical role in heart health by quenching inflammatory messengers and compounds that stress the heart and cause vascular damage. These anti-inflammatory properties are also involved as part of its function as an immune system regulator. Vitamin D might also decrease cardiac and vascular remodeling through suppression of the renin gene and suppression of parathyroid hormone which increase blood pressure and contribute to hardening of vessel walls.
Vitamin D in its active form in the body is also referred to as calcitriol and plays an important role in electrolyte balance as it allows for proper calcium and phosphorus absorption in the gut. It also promotes new bone growth and repair, supporting healthy development and proper mineral density. Proper vitamin D levels are necessary for children to develop healthy musculoskeletal structures while also preventing elderly populations from dealing with advanced forms of osteoporosis and arthritis. Rickets is a common disease associated with vitamin D deficiency in childhood as the bones are so soft they begin to bow under the weight of the rest of the body.
Taking a look at all the vital roles that vitamin D plays in the body, it becomes clear that it is an absolutely essential nutrient for maintaining a healthy and balanced bodily ecosystem.
Although low vitamin D levels and lack of healthy sun exposure may seem concerning to some, it is never something to stress over. Vitamin D can easily be supplemented due to the fact that most living organisms on the plant rely on the sun to produce vitamin D.
This means vitamin D can be obtained through diet from other animals, eggs, a number of green vegetables, and mushrooms as well. Mushrooms are actually wonderful at producing vitamin D and are used as the source for many vitamin D supplements on the market today. You may even be taking a vitamin D supplement right now that was sourced from mushrooms or other yeasts.
Studies and research around the world continue to evolve and uncover the ways in which the sun and vitamin D are truly our friends. Soaking in sunlight responsibly and using the right skin products is essential in absorbing all of the sun’s benefits into our bodies and our lives. If a daily dose of sunlight can change our world for the better, why should we hide in the shade? Let’s make friends with the sun and fully embrace it in the way it was intended.
Written by Dr. Thomas Macsay