We are now entering cold and flu season, and unfortunately, we’re also still dealing with COVID-19. This leaves many of us vulnerable to the potential to catch respiratory illnesses while we’re in public.
Since the coronavirus pandemic is on the rise once again throughout the U.S. and the world, to avoid infection, there are some strategies you should always utilize.
For example, many places have mask mandates. Even if there isn’t a mask mandate where you live, public health officials recommend always wearing a mask when you’re around other people.
You should wash your hands frequently, and when soap and water aren’t available, plan to use sanitizer.
Stay home if you’re sick, and get tested for COVID-19 if you think you’ve been in contact with someone who has it.
In addition, you might want to use strategies to boost your immune system.
Of course, there’s not one surefire way to avoid catching an illness like the flu or COVID, but if you do get sick, having a strong respiratory system may help reduce some of the side effects you experience.
One thing that we’ve seen recent research about is the role of vitamin D in a healthy immune system. You should never try to treat a vitamin deficiency on your own or treat something you don’t know if you have. You can do more harm than good.
You can, however, learn more about vitamin D and speak to your health care provider to see if using a supplement could be right for you.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is also known as calciferol. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin. It’s naturally found in some foods, and it can be used as a supplement.
It’s also produced when UV rays hit your skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
As a result, vitamin D is often nicknamed the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, in addition to its effects on the immune system.
As a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s stored in your body instead of being flushed out in urine.
Benefits of having enough vitamin D include:
- Boosted immune system
- Reduced inflammation
- Calcium absorption
- Support for muscle function
- May help prevent cancer
- Helps with healthy brain development
What is unique and challenging about vitamin D is the fact that even when you have a balanced diet, you may still not get enough.
You should try to expose your skin, without covering or sunscreen to the sun for five to 10 minutes a day twice a week to ensure you have enough of the vitamin.
Of course, that can come with the risk of skin cancer, so you shouldn’t go beyond these short exposure times in an effort to get vitamin D.
There are also individual factors that can interfere with how much vitamin D you get from the sun, such as the season, how light or dark your skin is, and whether or not it’s a cloudy day.
Food with Vitamin D
There are some dietary sources of vitamin D, and if you focus on these, you have to worry less about getting the vitamin from sun exposure.
Food-based sources of vitamin D include:
- Cod liver oil
- Milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- Beef liver
- Cereal fortified with vitamin D
- Swiss cheese
Vitamin D Deficiency
People who are older or who have darker skin are most at risk of being vitamin D deficient. It’s more difficult to convert sun into vitamin D.
- Crohn’s, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis: It’s more difficult for your intestines to absorb enough vitamin D when you have these disorders.
- Obesity: A body mass index of more than 30 is linked to lower levels of vitamin D. Fat cells isolate and don’t release vitamin D. If you are obese, you may need to take larger doses of the vitamin to maintain normal healthy levels.
- Kidney and liver disease: If you have kidney or liver diseases, they reduce the amount of a needed enzyme that changes vitamin D to something that can be used by the body.
- Age: We touched on this, but if you are older, your skin’s ability to make vitamin D goes down.
- Medications: Some medications can cause a vitamin D deficiency including steroids and laxatives. Some cholesterol-lowering and seizure-control drugs and the weight loss drug orlistat have also been linked to low vitamin D levels.
Signs and Symptoms of Deficiency
It can be difficult to spot a vitamin D deficiency in adults. Symptoms can be general and associated with other conditions.
Common D deficiency symptoms include bone pain, fatigue, muscle cramps or weakness, and mood changes, such as depression.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
There’s not an agreed-upon amount of vitamin D that everyone needs at this point.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommendation for people from the ages of 1 to 70 is 600 international units or IUs a day. That’s equal to a three-ounce serving of salmon or two eggs, for example. If you’re older than 70, you might want to try to get 800 IUs daily, according to the Institute of Medicine.
On the other hand, some researchers feel this is far too low and recommend getting up to 7000 IUs a day.
Vitamin D can become toxic at doses of anywhere from 10,000 to 4,000 IU a day, and according to the IOM, the safe amount of daily vitamin D should not be any more than 4,000 IU.
It gets confusing, so once again, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor. They can do a blood test to see if you’re deficient and if you are they can help you figure out the right solution to remedy the issue. Your health care provider can help you learn more about vitamin D supplements and the best ones for your needs.