When you look at food nutrition labels, have you ever wondered how we figured out what vitamins the human body needs? In general, essential vitamins have been discovered through identifying severe deficiencies of that vitamin. For example, between the years 1500 and 1800, two million sailors died from scurvy, a disease that causes poor healing, due to severe deficiencies in Vitamin C.

Therefore, recommended amounts of vitamins are typically based on required amounts in the diet to avoid obvious health problems. What if the primary source of a vitamin is not the diet? And what if the symptoms are not so obvious?

Among all the essential vitamins, only one is not primarily obtained from food, and it may be the most important one. While you can obtain some Vitamin D from your diet, historically our primary source of Vitamin D has been through sun exposure. As our society has moved progressively indoors, as well as take measures to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays, Vitamin D levels have gone down drastically.

Why does this matter? For years, scientists thought the main use of Vitamin D was to support calcium absorption for strong bones. Over the last two decades, though, Vitamin D has been shown to affect nearly every system in the body, including how your genes are expressed!

Low levels of Vitamin D have been demonstrated to impair your immunity. Insufficient Vitamin levels have been associated with inflammation, which is then associated with many chronic diseases, including heart disease, dementia, and even cancer.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to improve your Vitamin D levels.

Obtain more sun exposure. Sun exposure is controversial because of the potential risks of skin cancer and you should try to minimize this risk. Your skin will handle the sun better if you slowly build up your sun exposure from a few minutes in a day to fifteen to thirty minutes, thereby giving your skin the opportunity to produce protective pigment.

Eat Vitamin D-rich foods such as fatty fish and dairy. Like with sun exposure, the benefits of foods such as dairy should be balanced with the risks.

Consider a Vitamin D supplement. There are now many types of Vitamin D supplements out there, typically ranging in dose from 1000 IU to 5000 IU a day.

While having low Vitamin D levels can contribute to inflammation and health risk, so can excessively high levels of Vitamin D as well. You can try to measure what Vitamin D levels produce the lowest level of inflammation by measuring hsCRP, a biomarker of inflammation. The ideal levels of Vitamin D may vary based on your ethnicity and other genetic factors.

To know if you are Vitamin D deficient, soon you will be able to order online a Vitamin D test kit that you can perform from home, as well as test hsCRP! You can then try to adjust your levels to achieve your best health.