One year ago – April 1, 2015, to be exact – I started seeing a slew of doctors to determine what was zapping my energy. After a battery of tests, the prescription was the same across the board: double my dosage of vitamin D. That was it. No joke.
I’m hardly alone in my missing my share of the sunshine vitamin. Sure, I live in Vermont, where darkness descends as soon as those famous fall leaves fall. But vitamin D deficiency is more widespread than once thought, and it can trigger everything from depression to dementia.
The bright side? Dialing in your D just right can lead to A-plus exercise performance, pain relief and much more. Here’s a recap of recent news that should inspire twisting off the cap of that vitamin D bottle.
Exercise Performance and Heart Disease
Want to work out more effectively and lower your risk of heart disease? Simply supplementing with D may help, say Scottish researchers who found that those who took 50 micrograms of the vitamin per day over the course of two weeks were able to cycle 6.5 kilometers at the end of the experiment, compared with 5 km at the beginning. And since studies have shown that vitamin D also blocks the enzyme needed to make the stress hormone cortisol, which may raise blood pressure when levels are elevated, it does the heart good, too. "Vitamin D deficiency is a silent syndrome linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and a higher risk for certain cancers,” says lead author of the study Emad Al-Dujaili, PhD. “Our study adds to the body of evidence showing the importance of tackling this widespread problem.”
Protect Against Mental Decline
If you find yourself scratching your head more frequently lately, you might want to hit the supplement aisle. Low levels of vitamin D can accelerate dementia, according to a study in JAMA Neurology. This is especially true for older adults, say scientists, while adding the caveat that vitamin D won’t guarantee clarity as you age; however, there’s no real downside to taking the supplements, which may indeed be helpful for brain health.
The sunshine vitamin can brighten your days by way of reducing pain, too. When researchers from National Taiwan University Hospital studied patients with fibromyalgia – a chronic disorder that manifests in aching muscles and joints along with fatigue, mood swings and sleep loss – they found that over 1,800 of them suffered from low levels of vitamin D.
The Best Ways to Take Vitamin D
While the National Institutes on Health recommends 600 IU of vitamin D daily for adults aged 19 to 70, the Vitamin D Council recommends 5,000 IU per day. Knowing where you fall on the sunshine vitamin’s spectrum may require a blood test; if your levels are below 30 ng/mL, then you may need to up your intake through supplements – but no more than 10,100 IU per day depending on your vitamin D level. Take vitamin D3, says the Vitamin D Council, and don’t worry about when or how you take it, as your body should absorb it easily.
The Fungus Among Us: How Mushrooms Boost Vitamin D
Ever heard of ergosterol? It’s a precursor to vitamin D, and mushrooms are one of the few foods that contain it. When mushrooms are exposed to UV light, that boosts their D content, especially in portobellos, wild chanterelles and wild morels. “Mushrooms can provide appreciable amounts of vitamin D2 to the diet,” says one USDA study.
If your local market sells only white button mushrooms, try one of the new mushroom-based supplements on the market; some, like those from Host Defense (hostdefense.com), are specifically targeted to brain and liver health along with immune support, energy support and stress and fatigue reduction.