Vitamin D is often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it is made in your body when your skin is exposed to UV light from the sun. In order to get adequate Vitamin D, you need to spend at least 15 minutes per day with most of your skin exposed in the midday sun. However, due to the risks of sun damage, this is not recommended. Besides, who wants to stand outside half naked when it is 20 degrees out?? For this reason, the vast majority of people living in New England are deficient in vitamin D (about 77%). Why is this a big deal? Well, it turns out vitamin D regulates about 2000 of your genes, meaning that it controls several functions in your body. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to a wide array of problems, including:
Type 1 Diabetes
Certain types of cancer
….and yes, back pain! In a recent article of Spine, “administration of 5,000-10,000 IU per day of vitamin D alleviated low-back pain in 95 percent of patients, 83 percent of whom had been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.”
Vitamin D is also crucial for optimal functioning of the immune system, which is part of the reason why there are more cold and flu illnesses in the winter months.
So if you want to strengthen your bones, improve your mood, get less colds, decrease your back pain, and lower your risk for several chronic diseases, I highly recommend supplementing with vitamin D, especially in the winter months. Dosage is somewhat controversial. The daily recommended intake set by the FDA is 400IU, but this is based on the minimal amount needed to prevent rickets. To reap the full benefits, I recommend between 1000-5000IU of D3 per day, depending on your diet and how much sun you get. Toxicity doesn’t occur unless you take above 10,000IU per day for several months.
Vitamin D can be found in most drug stores, but be aware that with any supplements, you “get what you pay for”. Cheap supplements are usually made from inferior sources that are less absorbed by the body. Since they are not regulated by the FDA, it is hard to know how much you are actually getting. In my office, I use a pharmaceutical grade line of supplements called Metagenics. All of their products are tested for purity and potency by a third party reviewer, so you can be sure that you are getting exactly what it says on the bottle.