How to actually raise Vitamin D levels
Mother Nature is wise beyond anything we understand. Vitamin D isn’t in many foods, and the foods in which D is have low levels. We’re supposed to get D from the sun. We only get small amounts of it in our food. End of story. You can’t bottle the sun and the supplement fad of taking synthetic hormones is dangerous!
Yep! Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin. It’s a hormone (Source) and we aren’t meant to eat hormones. We’re meant eat the building blocks that our bodies use to make hormones, which include vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol (fat).
There’s no denying Vitamin D is a crucial hormone, but synthetic vitamin D supplements cause excessive absorption of calcium in the gut, which increases serum calcium levels, and can lead to arterial calcification (Source) as well as other soft tissue calcification. Isolated D also causes renal potassium wasting (Source) and a loss of magnesium. Nearly everyone that has an extremely deficient level of potassium on their hair test will have used Vitamin D supplements in the past.
In nature, Vitamin A and Vitamin D are always found in balance. There will always be a minimum ratio of 10:1 of A to D. Ingestion of vitamin D in isolation from Vitamin A, will deplete A (Source). No matter how much Vitamin D you take, it is the Vitamin D Receptor (VDR) that determines how the Vitamin D is to be used (Source) and VDR REQUIRES retinol (Vitamin A).
How does our body make D from the sun?
Three metabolic transactions must happen to convert sunlight into the active form of Hormone D called Calcitriol. The first transaction happens when ultraviolet B rays from the sun hit our skin and converts a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol into Cholecalciferol. This precursor now travels from the skin to the liver where it is converted into the calcidiol, 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, which is a storage form of Vitamin D. From the liver, the calcidiol travels to the kidneys where it is converted into the active form of Vitamin D called Calcitriol.
Test before you supplement
We all have different stressors in our lives. They will show up in a hair test, revealing the levels of minerals as well as the ratios between minerals. We can’t go off symptoms alone to determine a Vitamin D deficiency. Testing is key. The hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) is a great first step to assessing your mineral status.
We include magnesium and potassium blood markers since ingestion of D is known to cause a loss of these minerals. After supplementing with D per a doctor’s orders, people have been hospitalized with hypokalemia (low potassium). This happens because D pushes low levels even lower. You’ll also need to monitor Calcium levels because D causes an increase in calcium.
Blood tests for vitamin D MUST include both the active (1-25(OH)2) and storage (25 (OH)) forms, the magnesium level inside of the red blood cells, ionized serum calcium, and serum potassium. If your doctor will not order all of these tests for you in order to get a complete picture of Vitamin D metabolism, then you can order them for yourself here or here.
How do I raise my D levels?
Well first let’s talk about what our levels should be at.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, storage levels of Vitamin D should be around 21 ng/mL. Levels above 21 conferred no additional protection and in fact storage levels over 21 INCREASED levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a factor in the stiffening of arteries and increases the risk of cardiovascular problems (Source).
As pointed out by Kenny L. De Meirleir, MD, PhD, who is a pre-eminent physiologist, internist and ME/CFS researcher based in Brussels (see this video), the ratio of Active D (1,25(OH)2 D3) to Storage D (25(OH)D) should be 1.5/2 to 1. So if you have a storage level of 21, then active D should be no more than 42. If active goes significantly higher than storage, 4-5x higher, it can end up having toxic effects.
My stance on Vitamin D supplementation is in line with the Weston A. Price Foundation. They say: “Vitamin D should be taken by mothers or given to infants in the form of cod liver oil, and mothers should consume a diet rich in grass-fed butterfat, cheese, fermented foods, bone broths and grass-fed organ meats to supply vitamin D in a way that is safest and most effective.” (Source)
To properly utilize the Vitamin D we get from the sun and our foods, we need adequate amounts of retinol (Vitamin A), magnesium, boron, and K2. Taking in Vitamin D without the cofactors we need to make it work is like not having a key to your car and still expecting it to turn on.
As I said, Vitamin A & D are connected at the hip and Vitamin A is required for activation of the Vitamin D Receptor. Magnesium’s role in the utilization of Vitamin D is that it is required for conversion. K2 helps to protect from Vitamin D toxicity. Some good sources of K2 are dairy from grass-fed ruminant animals, pastured eggs, grass fed beef liver, and meat from beef and chickens. Boron is a magnesium co-factor, and is also important for calcium regulation in the body, which ties it back to vitamin D since D affects calcium levels.
Cod liver oil is one of the oldest supplements around and a really nutrient dense food. Thankfully, the cod liver oil we have now tastes a lot better than the stuff our grandparents had to drink. The two cod liver oil brands I recommend are Rosita’s and Nordic Naturals Arctic (Not the Arctic-D, which has synthetic D added to it)
So the big key players to correcting a vitamin D deficiency are increasing intake of the cofactors magnesium, boron, Vitamin A and K2, using cod liver oil, making sure we’re getting adequate sun exposure, and eating foods that contain Vitamin D:
Natural Vitamin D foods
- Shiitake and button mushrooms (sun dried only, no artificial light)
- Wild Caught Salmon
- Cod liver oil
- Eggs- One egg has about 10% DV of Vitamin D
- Grass fed Beef Liver
Maximizing your time in the sun
We’ve been conditioned to think that natural sunlight causes cancer so we should stay indoors and supplement with Vitamin. This is totally illogical. If you’re concerned about sun exposure and cancer, please read this. I did a post on Facebook on how fluorescent lighting actually promotes skin cancer. Yup, you read that right.
Sun exposure is a major contributor to increasing Vitamin D levels. The amount of D created depends on the length of exposure, skin color (darker skin tones require more time in the sun then light skin tones), time of year, where you live, and environmental factors such as smog. To take the guesswork out of figuring out the best time to get sun, get the app called Dminder. It uses GPS to figure out where you are on the planet and computes the best time for you to get sun exposure and how long you should be in it to maximize Vitamin D levels. Those with fairer colored skin typically need 10-15 minutes for their skin to get a nice light pink tint. At that point, either go inside, put on SPF clothing, go in the shade, or use a non-chemical based sunscreen (I use Badger for my son).
Bottom line: Synthetic, isolated hormone D must be viewed as a pharmaceutical drug and you have to research it thoroughly. Ingestion of hormones should only be done with your doctor’s supervision and only after you get full disclosure. You wouldn’t take thyroid medication based on a TSH-only blood marker. Don’t take “Vitamin” D with only one marker. Vitamin D status isn’t about just one nutrient. There are multiple reasons your D can be low, so focus on them before using a synthetic Vitamin D supplement.
– Stephanie Whaley