Commonly known but often overlooked, vitamin D is an unsung hero that plays a critical role in our health. Also known as the “happy hormone,” vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone produced in the kidneys, and impacts everything from our mood to our immunity.
Despite the importance of vitamin D, an estimated 75% of US teens and adults are deficient in this essential (1). Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include depression and other cognitive pathologies, arthritis, inflammation, diabetes, and serious health conditions such as rickets.
But why is it so tricky to get enough vitamin D?
Vitamin D comes from two sources: sunlight and diet. While we only need 2-3 midday sun sessions per week to maintain healthy blood levels (10-30 minutes is a good starting point), a myriad of factors such as working indoors, skin pigment, sunscreen, and where we live can affect how much time we need in the sun to meet adequate intake (2).
Additionally, vitamin D is found in only a handful of foods, such as fatty fish and egg yolk, or through fortified products such as orange juice or milk. Even if you are incorporating these foods daily, it can be hard to ensure you’re reaching your daily needs, making supplementation a wise investment in your health.
Read on to learn more about vitamin D and how it can benefit both body and mind.
When talking about mood and mental health, we often neglect the importance of proper nutrition; however, vitamin D has a significant impact on mood regulation and wellbeing. Researchers have found that vitamin D helps regulate the overproduction of the 4 major stress hormones while maintaining serotonin levels. (3). Serotonin is particularly important in elevating our mood, and research has shown a correlation between a vitamin D deficiency and low serotonin levels (4).
While we all know that we need calcium to build strong bones, calcium can’t properly do its job without vitamin D. In fact, only 10-15% of dietary calcium and 60% of dietary phosphorus can be absorbed in the absence of vitamin D (both calcium and phosphorus are key players in building and maintaining bone) (5). Although low bone density is more common in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, it’s important to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D to assist in both present and future bone health.
While vitamin C and zinc often steal the spotlight, the importance of vitamin D for immunity cannot be ignored. The immune system is the body’s main defense against infection and disease, and a deficiency in vitamin D can render the body susceptible to serious infections (6) (7). Vitamin D is both anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory, and it is required to produce microbial proteins that kill both viruses and bacteria. In a 2012 study, respiratory tract infections were found to be significantly lower in groups supplementing their diet with vitamin D versus their placebo counterpart (8).
The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt vitamin D has a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing, but just how much do we need? The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends at least 15mcg of vitamin D per day. With 3 out of 4 Americans deficient in vitamin D, we’ve made sure each nutrient-dense GEM bite contains 20.5mcg, or 100% DV, of plant-based vitamin D to help meet your daily needs and keep you feeling sunny all year long.