You’ve probably heard of vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin. This nickname stems from the fact that exposure to sunlight helps your body naturally generate and sustain its own supply of vitamin D. Pretty cool, right?
It’s also pretty tricky. Why so tricky? Unlike other vitamins, dietary sources of vitamin D are surprisingly difficult to come by, even in well-balanced, healthy diets. So when exposure to sunshine is low, whether you are prone to staying indoors all day or you live in a cold and grey climate where sunshine supplies are low, it can become quite challenging to tap into and maintain healthy levels of this all-important vitamin.
It’s largely for this reason that vitamin D deficiencies are all too common, with 41.6% of American adults estimated to be deficient. Worse yet, the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are no joke and are often linked to:
- Frequent illness or infection
- Poor bone health in the form of aches and pains
- Depression and anxiety
- Chronic fatigue
- Inflammation and autoimmune disorders
- Even some cancers
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
So, knowing that many of us spend a good deal of our time playing, working, and creating indoors, what can we do to help protect ourselves against vitamin D deficiency? That’s exactly what Patch is here for—Let’s dive in.
What Exactly is Vitamin D?
First, some biology 101 (don’t worry! There won’t be a quiz.) Vitamin D, scientifically known as calciferol, is a hormone-like vitamin that is essential for multiple biological functions in the body. One reason vitamin D is deemed “hormone-like” is that it has receptors on the cells, like hormones do. Interestingly, this hormone-like vitamin is actually a prohormone, or a molecule that the body converts into a hormone, with the chemical structure of a steroid molecule.
When vitamin D is consumed or produced in the skin (more on that in a sec), it has to undergo two biological processes to become active, or in other words, a molecule that the body can actually use. The active hormone version of vitamin D is called Calcitriol and it is this final version that can turn on receptors in cells to stimulate any necessary biological responses.
Activated vitamin D or calcitriol has a slew of benefits for your body. Amazingly, scientists are still discovering how important it is for almost every system of the body. Here is a bird’s eye view of what we know:
#1 - Bone Health
Vitamin D is most well known for its influence on calcium. There is a strong relationship between calcium, vitamin D, and the parathyroid gland, the gland responsible for regulating our blood calcium levels.
First thing to note, while calcium is an important component of healthy bones and teeth, it is also vital for nerve signal transmission and muscle contraction.
This next paragraph gets a little technical so bear with us. When blood calcium levels are low, the parathyroid gland releases parathyroid hormone (PTH), which stimulates conversion of vitamin D into it’s bioactive form, calcitriol. Calcitriol increases absorption of calcium in the small intestine from food and the uptake of calcium in cells. In healthy individuals, heightened levels of blood calcium cause the parathyroid gland to reduce production of PTH creating a self regulating feedback cycle.
So what happens when vitamin D levels are too low to make enough calcitriol? The parathyroid gland still secretes PTH, but this time, without calcitriol to stimulate absorption of calcium in the gut, calcium is released from bones. See the problem?
Low calcium over a long period can lead to brittle bones! When this situation is prolonged, conditions like osteoporosis arise as bones become weak and brittle from too little calcium.
The jury is still out on whether or not taking vitamin D supplements later in life can reverse the prolonged negative effects of deficiency. This study found no effect of supplementation on bone health for older adults experiencing vitamin D deficiency while the findings of another study implied the opposite. In a study that investigated the potential mechanisms of vitamin D’s effect on bone health, findings strongly supported that there is a positive correlation between improved bone strength and vitamin D supplementation across various age groups.
When considering early childhood and adolescence, multiple studies support supplementation with vitamin D during developmental years to help prevent potential bone and muscle health problems from arising. All things considered, in the case of vitamin D and proper bone health, prevention is paramount to treatment. Especially when you look at studies like this one where significant vitamin D deficiencies were found in 81 individuals all experiencing chronic muscle pain.
#2 - Heart Health
The heart is possibly the hardest working muscle in the body, and just like other muscular cells, it has receptors for vitamin D. When it comes to heart health, vitamin D helps keep arteries flexible, regulates inflammatory cells, and helps control blood pressure. In a large-scale ten year study involving 50,000 men, low vitamin D levels were correlated to a two fold risk of heart attack. Multiple other studies resulted in similar findings for risk of cardiovascular mortality.
#3 - Immune Health
Autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes have been associated with vitamin D deficiencies. In studies looking at risk of developing MS, individuals with higher blood levels of the vitamin had as much as a 62% lower risk of developing MS. Similar findings were made concerning T1D with a 44% reduced risk of developing T1D at higher vitamin D levels.
Taking a step outside of autoimmune conditions, vitamin D also has a role in overall immune response. Antigen cells, T-cells, and B-cells all have receptors for the bioactive form of vitamin D which tempers some of the inflammatory damage of white blood cells. In addition, vitamin D boosts production of microbe fighting proteins.
#4- Mental Health
Last but not least, let’s especially talk about why we chose to include vitamin D in Patch: to support your mental well-being.
While the exact mechanisms aren’t yet understood, multiple studies attribute low vitamin D levels to increased depression and anxiety. This begs the question—can vitamin D supplementation help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety? Recent studies indicate that yes, indeed it can.
For example, in a 2008 study involving 441 participants, supplementation with vitamin D resulted in significant improvements in measured depression. And in a meta analysis of multiple studies, the effects of vitamin D treatment was comparable with the effect of antidepressant medication. That’s huge! And these promising results are paving the way for further research into the mechanisms by which vitamin D can be used to treat and support mental health.
Sources of Vitamin D
Now that you have a little background on vitamin D and its effects on the body, we’ll tell you about how you can get it.
Foods relatively high in vitamin D are:
- Fatty Fish
- Egg yolks
- Food products with added vitamin D
To give you an idea of how hard it is to get adequate vitamin D from diet alone, the recommended daily intake for adults between ages 19-50 is 600 International Units (UI)/ 15 mcg. A single large egg has about 44 IU. A standard filet of tilapia? 131 IU. Some fish like salmon, trout, and swordfish can actually have 600+ IU of vitamin D which is great for those of us who are pescatarian, but not so great for anyone who doesn’t want to eat fish daily. While 1 cup of whole milk may have 124 IU, you’d have to drink 5 cups of milk every day, and if you’re lactose intolerant like a few of us here, (research shows that an estimated 68% of you are) the thought of drinking that much milk in a day is…well…difficult to digest.
So if it’s hard to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from our diet, where else does it come from? You! That’s right! As we mentioned before, your own body has the capacity to make vitamin D. All you need is a little sunlight. If you are thinking it is a lot like photosynthesis, you are kinda right.
When exposed to UVB light from the sun the solar radiation converts naturally occurring 7-dehydrocholesterol (a precursor to cholesterol) in skin into vitamin D. An estimated 15-20 minutes spent outdoors a day is thought to provide an adequate amount of UVB exposure for the body to produce the vitamin D it needs. Of course this can vary based on a variety of factors including air pollution, weather, time of year, sunscreen, and your skin pigmentation.
It’s also worth noting that sadly, UVB light cannot penetrate glass. So soaking up rays from your bedroom desk won’t quite do the trick.
As such, you are not alone if your vitamin D levels are low. One study found that close to 42% of people in the US are deficient in this very important vitamin!
Vitamin D2 vs D3
We’ve taken a tour de force of all things vitamin D. But before we wrap up there’s one last question that we’d like to dig into—what’s the difference between vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3?
The fundamental difference comes down to the source. D2 comes from plant sources while D3 is the variety found in animals (including yourself!). While both forms need to be processed in the same way to become bioactive, vitamin D2 is the more common form you’ll find in supplements and fortified foods. That’s mainly because it’s cheaper to manufacture.
Why PATCH Made it Right for You
We formulated Patch with 600 IU of vitamin D because we understand that so many of us are not getting outdoors as much anymore (especially in colder months), and because it’s particularly challenging to get your total daily requirement from whole food sources alone.
When it came time to formulate Patch, we opted for D3. Why? Because research indicates that D3 may indeed be more effective than D2 at actually increasing our vitamin D levels; specifically the concentration of bioavailable vitamin D after digestion. That matters!
The role of vitamin D in overall health cannot be understated. An abundance of research shows the close relationship of vitamin D deficiency and a variety of health problems ranging from heart conditions to depression and anxiety. Our bodies need vitamin D—that much is certain. Vitamin D absorption through a healthy, modest, dose of sunlight still seems to be ideal. But the realities of modern life—whether because of diet or lifestyle—can simply make getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D difficult. That’s why we chose this crucial nutrient to include as one of our key ingredients in Patch.