Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world; more than a billion people are deficient. Current research suggests that vitamin D deficiency causes everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes. This post provides guidelines that will help you understand 1) how much of this vitamin you need and 2) the sources of this vitamin. The overall goal is to help you live a vibrant and, healthy life.
Vitamin D also referred to as “the sunshine vitamin,” is the only essential vitamin that can be obtained via the sun. Although some food sources such as egg yolk, fatty fish, and beef liver contain vitamin D, the most effective source of this vitamin is through the exposure to sunlight. Simply said: getting adequate vitamin D from natural food sources is virtually impossible.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is essential for our growth and development. In fact, it regulates the expression of over 1,000 genes in our body. Apart from that important function, lack of vitamin D also prevents calcium absorption. Calcium is an essential mineral that is responsible for the development of strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps to signal between brain cells.
That said, vitamin D deficiency can result in serious, life-threatening diseases. These are, perhaps, the most notable ones:
- High blood pressure
- Increased cancer risk
- Loss of muscle strength
- Autoimmune diseases
- Birth defects
- Increased DNA damage
- Increased depression
This list is definitely not exhaustive.
As you can see, Vitamin D is indeed a super essential vitamin for a healthy life. Maybe that’s why Allah (SWT) provides this vitamin for free. All you need is to spend some time in the sun!
However, the majority of people, including me, spend way too little time outside to obtain these benefits. We hop from climate-controlled houses to climate-controlled cars to climate-controlled offices. This leaves us without the time we need to enjoy nature by basking in the sun.
How to Get Vitamin D
Well, as I’ve mentioned, one of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is through sunlight since vitamin D is synthesized in the skin when exposed to the sun’s radiation. However, the amount of vitamin D you receive from the sun depends on many things:
- Location: For instance, if you live in northern latitudes (latitudes above 37 degrees north) in the winter, there’s very little sunshine. This means that your skin can’t make the vitamin D your body needs
- Complexion: Darker-skinned people absorb less sunlight through their skin, so you need more time in the sun if your skin’s darker
- Sunscreen: Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will decrease the amount of vitamin D made in the body by about 99%
- Age: As we age, our body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight is reduced by a whopping 75%
- Body fat percentage: Vitamin D gets trapped in body fat of heavier folks. So only around 50% of Vitamin D gets delivered to your blood.
This is also a concern for Muslims as our clothing may make it more difficult to obtain this vitamin since most of our bodies are covered.
The infographic below is a comparison of two figures. It explains how much vitamin D from the sun a modestly dressed person obtains vs. someone with less clothing:
Given the fact, that most Muslims/Muslimaat are modestly dressed, I would suggest going for a daily 30-minute walk in the mid-day sun. This will help your body obtain the vitamin D it needs.
But, this isn’t always practical for most people. For example, I live in the northern hemisphere, and I hardly see any sun during the winter.
And for the folks in the Middle East, it isn’t easy to be in the sun during the summer. Just as a side note: despite the abundance of the sunshine in the Middle East all year round, the region registers some of the highest levels of vitamin D deficiency.
And, of course, it’s also true that too much of ultraviolet rays from the sun isn’t healthy for us either.
So, what’s the solution?
Supplement with Vitamin D
Before I delve deeper into this topic, I need to mention this: when it comes to dietary supplements, there are two big camps. One group believes that supplements are absolutely necessary for a healthy life. On the other hand, others believe that supplements have little or no value, and are promoted by rich pharmaceutical companies just to make money.
As always, the truth lies in the middle. Having read quite a bit of scientific literature, I can say that vitamin D is one of the safest supplements in the world. Supplementation of 1,000 – 2,000 IU/daily vitamin D is considered safe and sufficient to meet the needs of most people, bi’idnillah.
If you are already deficient in vitamin D, you may even need higher doses.
Nevertheless, before supplementing, please consult your physician and evaluate your vitamin D blood level.
Extensive research also suggests that the optimum level of vitamin D is between 40 to 60 ng/ml (100 – 150 nmol/l). Individuals with this level have fewer risk factors that cause other diseases compared to the rest of the population.
Key Take Home Message
The Prophetic Sunnah is to follow the middle path in everything. That’s the motto I follow in my life too. Based on this principle, here’s my suggestion:
Whenever it’s practical and possible for you to be under the sun, then get your vitamin D from the sunlight. When this isn’t possible, take a vitamin D dietary supplement. In the summer, I get my vitamin D from the sun and in the winter, I use supplements.
If you would like to know more about vitamin D, I highly recommend this resource: https://www.vitamindcouncil.org