Vitamin D and Me

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I’ve been reading a lot about the relationship of Vitamin D and Covid-19 complications in the news.  I imagine you have too.  I think it all got started when Dr. Fauci (the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) suggested that people consider taking a supplement to ensure an adequate amount of Vitamin D for robust health in the event of a Covid-19 infection.

Dr. Fauci never claimed that Vitamin D could cure or prevent Covid-19 but that sufficient Vitamin D helps our bodies resist infections from viruses in general.

So I asked Jamie, “Do you think we’re getting enough Vitamin D?”  He replied, “We’re out in the sun all the time. Isn’t everyone who isn’t a cave dweller getting enough?”  Apparently not.  Turns out that about 40 percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. Even 20 percent would have surprise me.

But that’s the States, right?  Here in “Sunny Spain” it can’t possibly be the that high.  And it’s not.  About 33 percent of Spaniards are deficient in Vitamin D.  That was a shocker.

Then we reflected on the three months of lockdown and the month of August when we rarely ventured forth in the mid-day heat and that set off another round of questions:

  • How much sun do we need and how often?
  • What about in Winter?
  • Does a cloudy day count?
  • What’s the impact of wearing sunscreen?
  • Is our vegan diet a factor, good or bad?
  • Do we need Vitamin D every day?

The cheap and easy way to get your Vitamin D - Sunshine

It’s called the Sunshine Vitamin for a reason.  Ahh, but so many things reduce the production of Vitamin D by our bodies:

  • age
  • sunscreen use
  • skin pigmentation
  • various diseases
  • obesity
  • medications
  • frequency of sun exposure (and not through windows)
  • time of day of sun exposure (10am to 3pm is best)
  • latitude (the higher the number the lower the exposure)
  • cloud cover and air pollution.

This thorough synopsis from the Cleveland Clinic provides even more details.

Jamie and I have a few marks against us.  First is age.  The older you get the less capacity your body has to manufacture Vitamin D from sun exposure.  Also, I wear sunscreen. In the summer we try to complete our outside activities before 10:00 a.m. due to the heat and humidity.  We have plenty of sunny days in the winter but those warm rays only land on my sun screened face and Jamie’s bald head.

Still, according to this article in Healthline  you can fulfill your body’s Vitamin D requirements by enjoying your recreation in the midday summer sun 3 times a week for 10 -30 minutes.  This is assuming you’re wearing short sleeves and shorts…or less.

Because Vitamin D is stored in the fat cells and other tissues of our body, it is difficult to say how long your dose will last.  Some sources say, until you need it.  Other sources say a large dose will last 2 months.  I have no idea.  So, I had to chalk up one point for taking the supplement.

But, wait.  What about food?  Doesn’t a healthy diet contribute to Vitamin D intake?  Maybe.

Diet and Vitamin D

We’ve worked diligently to make our vegan diet high in variety and quality.  Of the top 3 foods rich in Vitamin D, two are animal based products.  Fatty fish and fortified milk don’t fit in our diet.  And the third one - mushrooms – we like, but we don’t eat daily.

On the plant food side, foods high in Vitamin D include fortified plant-based milk and tofu.  And some fortified cereals.  These are usually the big commercial brands such as Quaker and Kellogg.  They aren’t the organic, non- GMO brands that we buy.

Our carefully structured plant based diet can provide nearly every vitamin and mineral we need but maybe not Vitamin D.  So, chalk up another point for taking the supplement.  Maybe not forever, but especially right now.  Plus, I still need to convince Jamie since he thinks supplemental vitamins are as silly as magic potion skin creams to reduce fine lines.

Vitamin D Supplements

Shopping for everything is harder in a foreign language and vitamins are no exception.  I am accustomed to seeing most active ingredients listed in milligrams (mg).  In the EU many ingredients are listed in micrograms (mcg) instead of milligrams.  To confound me even more, they don’t always use the mcg abbreviation.  On the same products they sometimes use the abbreviation µg which also means micrograms.

Instead of converting micrograms to milligrams I decided to rely on the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) that is on every vitamin product in the U.S.  In the European Union this term is called the Nutrient Reference Value  (NRV).  Thankfully, they are nearly identical.  Both terms refer to recommended daily intake even though the actual recommended numbers may not be the same.

There’s just one more kink.  News articles recommended that a person over 65 should take 800 – 1000 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D daily.  The multivitamins I wanted to purchase provided 400% of the NRV for Vitamin D but was that equivalent to 800 – 1000 IU’s?

With a little help from Google and this website  I learned that 800 µg/mcg equals 20 International Units, which is exactly what my new Multivitamin and Mineral pill provides.  What an ordeal. Good thing I am retired.

Thanks for going on this wild ride with me.  I hope you find it useful.

Susan Carey retired in 2017 after a long business career.  She writes about her experiences as a vagabond in Europe.  Susan shares her gentle life with her husband, Jamie, and two geriatric cats they brought with them from the United States.
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Comments

  1. Being Vegan, nutrition is a little more difficult. Thanks for the information Susan. Believe I am okay with Vitamin D. B 12 is the one I am often concerned with.

    1. Author

      I’m grateful to have learned so much about nutrition that I can create a diet that is better than most – be it vegan or meat eater. I am certain you too have a carefully planned diet. I’ve always taken a B12 supplement so no concern there. Now, I’m just getting a little more B12 in the multivitamin.

  2. Our doctor recommends Vit D supplements for folks past 60. We are outdoors a lot…for 6 months of the year! Which is not enough, of course. Thanks for the info…stay well!

  3. Thanks, Susan. I added Vit D to my shopping list this morning – will get some right after I finish at KBZY. ♥

  4. Thanks so much for fortifying my routine of supplementing my natural Vitamin D levels here in not-so-sunny Oregon!

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