The Importance of the Sunshine Vitamin

by Cara Ho

The “sunshine” vitamin is a hot topic that attracted ample attention over the past decades, specially that a considerable proportion of the worldwide population are deficient in this essential nutrient. Vitamin D was primarily acknowledged for its importance in bone formation, however; increasing evidence point to its interference with the proper function of nearly every tissue in our bodies including brain, heart, muscles, immune system and skin. Thereby its deficiency has been incriminated in a long panel of diseases including cancers, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular and neurological disorders. Its involvement in the contributing causes of different skin diseases is no exception and has been the subject of much research over the recent years.

It is somewhat ironic that vitamin D, through a historical accident, became classified as a ‘vitamin’, owing to the fact that vitamin is conventionally defined as ‘essential item needed in the diet’. The paradox with ‘vitamin D’ is that diet per se is usually poor in vitamin D except for cod or other fish oils or food fortified with this vitamin.

Vitamin D is actually a fat-soluble prohormone steroid that has endocrine, paracrine and autocrine function.  The endocrine effects of vitamin D are mainly involved in serum calcium homeostasis. Vitamin D and calcium are often used in the same sentence because they work closely together, vitamin D’s primary role is to control the levels of calcium found in the bloodstream by constantly allowing calcium and phosphate absorption from the intestine or taking calcium from bones.

Sources of vitamin D

There are only 3 known sources of vitamin D; sunlight, diet, and vitamin D supplements. Insert diagram

There are several ways that being vitamin D deficient might impact your skin.

Healthy levels of vitamin D have been demonstrated to prevent skin ageing. Skin ageing can be demonstrated molecularly, by the shortening of telomeres, the caps of genetic material on the free ends of DNA strands. These telomeres shorten with age, rendering the DNA more and more unstable, until the cell dies. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that telomeres were “significantly longer in patients with the highest serum vitamin D levels, compared to those with the lowest … equivalent to five years of aging.”

Vitamin D is crucial for skin protection. Further, calcitriol (the active form of vitamin D) helps in skin cell growth, repair, and metabolism as well as prevents skin aging. But too much sun leads to accelerated skin ageing, ultraviolet light (sun light) does cause direct DNA damage, skin injury and skin cancers. Hence, sunlight is not the best way to get your vitamin D.

Other ways Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the health of your skin are:

  1. Can help prevent chronic inflammation and regulate the immune system
  2. Influences genes that ensure skin cells die, shed, and don’t clog pores
  3. Increases the absorption & utilization of magnesium, phosphate, vitamin K2, and other nutrients
  4. Plays a role in insulin secretion (too much insulin can be a nightmare for acne).
  5. Some studies have found that vitamin D can help treat skin conditions like dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema.
  6. People over the age of 50 have less ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight and are at a greater risk of osteoporosis and arthritis, fractures, muscle weakness, and cancers.
  7. Deficiency in vitamin D is a real problem for acne – a recent study found that 95% of people with acne were deficient in vitamin D. It’s hard to understate the importance of vitamin D when it comes to acne.

Testing for Vitamin D deficiency involves a simple blood test. The lab should measure the level of bioavailable vitamin D, which is D3 (the type that the skin makes). There is a range of normal, low normal, moderate and severe deficiency.
Aside from vitamin D supplements that your doctor and or dietician or naturopath can recommend,  a diet rich in vitamin D is the best place to start. TIP: Taking vitamin D3 with a fat can increase absorption by up to 32%. Taking the DMK EFA’s with the Vitamin D3 will do the trick.

Vitamin D supplements may help with many skin conditions, including dry, itchy skin, psoriasis and acne

Researchers are establishing a firmer link between vitamin D levels and acne. Acne (clinically known as acne vulgaris) is a skin condition where your pores become blocked or clogged, causing red bumps or blackheads to form on your skin. Acne can be caused by changes in hormone levels, bacteria, oils, and more. If you have acne, a vitamin D deficiency may be part of what’s causing symptoms or making them worse.

Is vitamin D deficiency a risk factor for acne?

In 2006Trusted Source, researchers estimated that over 41 percent of the U.S. population was deficient in the hormone called vitamin D. Vitamin D is not listed as an official risk factor for acne, according to the Mayo Clinic. But researchersTrusted Source are starting to explore how vitamin D regulates the immune system. This immune system link might explain the relationship between vitamin D levels and skin health.

In a 2014 studyTrusted Source, people who had nodulocystic acne were at risk for more severe symptoms if they had low levels of vitamin D. In another studyTrusted Source, people with acne experienced significantly improved symptoms when they took oral vitamin D supplements.

Benefits of using vitamin D for acne

Vitamin D has antimicrobial properties. If the acne you have is caused by bacterial overgrowth, using topical vitamin D might calm your symptoms. More studies are needed to confirm how this could work.

Vitamin D also has an anti-inflammatory property. Having adequate levels of vitamin D in your system may help addressTrusted Source the inflammatory symptoms of acne. Taking vitamin D supplements could also be an alternative way of treating recurrent acne that appears red and inflamed.

How to use vitamin D for acne?

If you’re deficient in vitamin D, sitting out in the sun won’t fix your acne. Doctors agree that prolonged exposure to sunshine is not the best way to get vitamin D. Exposure to the sun without using a protective sunscreen can put you at risk for skin cancer. Taking dietary supplements and consuming foods rich in vitamin D are the best ways to increase your vitamin D levels to help treat acne.

There are few foods naturally rich in vitamin D. Dairy products, like milk and cheese, are a great source of the vitamin, but have been found in some studiesTrusted Source to make acne symptoms worse. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may already be considering taking a vitamin D supplement. People who don’t consume milk regularly are at a higher riskTrusted Source of being deficient in vitamin D.

If you do use a vitamin D oral supplement, keep an eye on the dosage. Make sure that other supplements you’re taking, such as a calcium supplement or prenatal vitamin, aren’t putting you over the recommended amount of 100 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day. And since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it can build up in your system. Vitamin D supplements are best taken with a meal.

Topical application of vitamin D3 has been foundTrusted Source to be an efficient way to get vitamin D levels up with fewer side effects than oral supplements, but more research is needed.

Potential side effects and risks

Taking too much vitamin D can result in serious side effects. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has set a limit of 100 mcg per day of vitamin D for men and women who are not pregnant or nursing.

The most common side effect of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood, called hypercalcemia. Hypercalcelmia can cause nausea and vomiting. Taking too much vitamin D over time can result in heart arrhythmias, tissue calcification, kidney stones, and organ damage.

Vitamin D levels can also be decreased when taking corticosteroid medication.

If you have recurrent acne that hasn’t resolved with other kinds of treatment, you may have a vitamin D deficiency. So have your serum levels checked.

References

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