By Shari Jainuddin, ND, BCB

Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common for many Americans. In the recent years, more and more research is coming out supporting how critical of a vitamin it is. To date we know how important it is in calcium absorption and bone health and it plays roles in our digestive, circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. In fact, evidence suggests it plays a protective role in illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and depression. Notably, lack of vitamin D has been linked to Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD) and is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. The list goes on.

As the evidence keeps rolling in on how important vitamin D is, many of us are left to figure out how to get more of it. Sunlight exposure is a necessary step in how our bodies make active forms of vitamin D on its own, but what about skin cancer due to sun exposure? Both are real and can leave people with a sense of conflict over how to proceed. Most experts recommend spending about 8-15 minutes a day in the sun without any sunscreen on and with as much skin exposed as comfortable. If you plan to be out in the sun longer than that, then make sure to apply your sunscreen after that initial 8-15 minutes.

People with darker skin tones, older individuals, and people living further away from the equator may need longer time in the sun for the same effect. And if you live in colder climates, skin exposure may just not be a realistic option. But thankfully there are other ways you can get vitamin D. Fatty fishes and seafood, egg yolks, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D3 (the most effective form of vitamin D) are some great dietary sources. Certain mushrooms are a good non-animal source, but it comes in the form or D2, not D3, so it is a little less bang for your bite. Supplements are also another option. Look for high grade products that contain vitamin D3. Although vitamin D toxicity is rare, it is possible. Fortunately, vitamin D levels are measured easily with a simple blood test. Ask your doctor about testing for vitamin D levels (25-hydroxy vitamin D specifically) and discuss with them their recommendations on sources right for you and/or doses if you decide to incorporate a supplement. While it may not be as easy as a few minutes in the sun for some of us, these other options can help us achieve healthy levels of vitamin D.