Vitamin D: Sunshine Vitamin and Sunshine Hormone

Vitamin D is essential to your body for the proper absorption of calcium and bone development. It aids in control of cell growth, proper immune functioning, and limits effects of inflammation. People with vitamin D deficiency may experience bone pain and muscle weakness although the symptoms may be mild at first. A more severe deficiency in vitamin D can lead to rickets, a disease in which bones fail to properly develop. Furthermore, inadequate levels of vitamin D can lead to increased cancer risk, poor hair growth, and osteomalacia, a condition of weakened muscles and bones.

Vitamin D is found in many foods but is also naturally made by your body when you expose your skin to the sun, earning its nickname the “sun-shine vitamin”. In addition, vitamin D is widely added to many foods such as milk and can also simply be consumed as a supplement.

The major role of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which forms and maintains strong bones. It is used alone or together with calcium to improve bone health and decrease fractures and risk of osteoporosis.

What causes low Vitamin D?

There are many causes of vitamin D deficiency –

  • Decreased production
  • Sunscreen, skin pigment, time of seasons/latitude/time a day, aging, skin grafts
  • Poor absorption in the gut
  • Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, history of gastric bypass surgery, meds
  • Obesity
  • Kidney and liver disease

Unfortunately, despite growing attention to vitamin D deficiency, there are no established guidelines to help doctors decide who warrants laboratory testing. Higher risk groups that definitely need to be tested, which can be done easily through a blood test for 25 hydroxy vitamin D (25(OH)D), include older persons in nursing homes and hospitals, persons with history of hip fracture, dark–skinned women, and mothers of babies with low vitamin D. Better guidelines obviously need to be set for wider screening and earlier diagnosis.

Current guidelines have classified vitamin D levels into four stages according to 25(OH)D – severe deficiency (32 nmol/L). Recent research suggests the values of having sufficient vitamin D are likely much higher and closer to 50-75 nmol/L.

What foods are good sources of Vitamin D?

  • Fortified Dairy Products
    • Dairy products are already high in calcium and are fortified with vitamin D. Milk can provide up to 130 International Units (IU) per cup. Cheese can provide variable amounts of vitamin D but always check nutritional labels for exact amounts.
  • Eggs
    • In addition to vitamin D, eggs are a good source of vitamin B12, and protein. Eggs provide about 40 IU of vitamin D per 100 gram serving or about 20 IU in a large egg.
  • Fish
    • Various types of fish are high in vitamin D. Raw fish contains more vitamin D than cooked fish, and fatty cuts will contain more than lean cuts. Furthermore, fish canned in oil will have more vitamin D than those canned in water. Raw fish is typically eaten in the form of sushi. Raw Atlantic herring provides the most vitamin D with about 1600 IU per 100 gram serving or about 3000 IU per fillet. It is followed by pickled herring, salmon, raw mackerel, oil packed sardines, and oil packed tuna.
  • Mushrooms
    • More than just a high vitamin D food, mushrooms also provide Vitamin B5 and copper. Lightly cooked white button mushrooms provide the most vitamin D with around 30 IU per 100 gram serving or approximately 10 IU per ounce.
  • Oysters
    • In addition to vitamin D, oysters are a great source of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, manganese, selenium, and copper. Remember that oysters are also high in cholesterol and should be eaten in moderation by people at risk of heart disease or stroke. Raw wild caught oysters provide up to 320 IU per 100 gram serving.

How can Vitamin D be provided other than sunlight or food?

There are a number of ways to replace vitamin D in supplemental form. Preparations are either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2. Vitamin D3 is similar to the vitamin D our body makes when exposed to the sun while vitamin D2 is a plant based supplement.

Some people have a really difficult time getting their vitamin D levels to goal. In this circumstance, vitamin D injections, which bypass the gut for absorption, is a good option and/or vitamin K2 can further augment vitamin D action.

More and more research is pointing to the importance of vitamin D, and it is not just linked to bone health. Sunlight is a great source but certain foods are good as well. Supplements are useful if you are otherwise healthy and if your 25(OH) D levels are low.

References:

Bendik I, Friedel A, Roos FF, Weber P, Eggersdorfer M. Vitamin D: a critical and essential micronutrient for human health. Frontiers in Physiology 2014; 5:1-14.

Kulie T, Groff A, Redmer J, Hounshell J, Schrager S. Vitamin D: an evidence-based review. JABFM 2009; 22:698-704.

Mindful Eating for Weight Control & Nutrition

Mindfulness, a Buddhist concept that involves being fully aware and living in the moment, has proven successful for people dealing with conditions like stress, high blood pressure and chronic gastrointestinal issues. And now, a growing body of research suggests that a mindfulness approach to eating in a slower, more thoughtful way can assist in weight management.

Coined “mindful eating,” some have even found that this approach helps steer them away from process foods and other unhealthy choices.

Elements of mindful eating

  • Appreciating all of the elements of the food you are eating–the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment
  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nourishing opportunities that can be found in food selection and preparation
  • Not rushing through eating your meal but chewing slowly
  • Avoiding distractions, like TV, reading, or browsing the internet, while eating
  • Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and fullness cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating

This seems so easy…and it is. But like all new things, the first step is the hardest. Many people cling to “rules of dieting” that they have been holding onto for so long. This, unfortunately, leads to a setup for failure and has been compared to walking a tightrope. Once one falls off of the “diet tightrope,” it can lead to frustration and a “just don’t care” attitude. However, incorporating the principles of mindful eating is more like a wide path that has no “rules,” but relies upon listening to your body’s cues for satisfaction and nourishment.

The mind-gut connection

Digestion is actually a very complex process that involves a series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to be clued in to our fullness. If someone eats too quickly, these fullness signals may occur only after overeating instead of putting a stop to it. On the other hand, it also is believed that eating while we are distracted by certain activities like driving may slow down or stop digestion similar to how the “fight or flight” response does. If we are not digesting well in general, we may be missing out on the full nutritional value of some of the food we are eating.

5 simple mindful eating techniques

  1. Give up the “rules” – By setting strict rules, you walk a tightrope between “being good” and a “just don’t care” attitude. This also leads to certain foods being a “forbidden fruit” that are all the more tempting.
  2. Feed yourself predictably – Try to avoid patterns like skipping lunch so you can eat more at the dinner party. This can lead to overeating once dinner is served.
  3. Eat slowly and savor – Don’t be in a rush to eat. Chew slowly and enjoy the different flavors. Think about the process in preparing the meal. Enjoy your company. Don’t continue eating something that you do fully enjoy.
  4. Eat well – Be thoughtful in your food choices. Listen to your body’s cues as to when you are full.
  5. Experiment – Try different foods and your response. Stay present in the experience. Ask yourself “am I still hungry?” before taking seconds.

Mindful eating takes practice, but over time it will help you develop a health relationship with food. Give it a try. You may find your appetite is actually a good guide to overall nutrition and well-being.