While most of our vitamins we get from food, the one we do not primarily get from food may also be the most important one. Vitamin D, otherwise known as “The Sunshine Vitamin,” earned such a title through our primary source of the vitamin being the sun. More specifically, UVB sunlight causes a chemical reaction in our skin that converts a form of cholesterol into the active form of Vitamin D. But why is Vitamin D such a big deal?

For decades, we thought the primary importance of Vitamin D was that it supports Calcium absorption to support bone strength. Therefore, a deficiency in Vitamin D increases risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. We have since learned that Vitamin D does so much more.

Vitamin D has been shown to affect hundreds of biological functions, including how our body expresses certain genes. For example, Vitamin D has been shown to activate certain genes that are key for optimal functioning of the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has therefore been associated with having a weakened immune system. In addition, Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase inflammation, which can increase the risk of many chronic diseases. In fact, Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer. Correcting Vitamin D deficiency has even been demonstrated to improve mood and athletic performance.

Unfortunately, as a society we are getting far less Vitamin D than previous generations because we spend so much more time indoors, and therefore get less sun exposure. It is estimated almost one billion people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. What are considered healthy levels of Vitamin D have continued to increase as we understand the difference between optimal levels and where our society stands.

Fortunately, this prevalent and risky condition (D Deficiency) is easy to correct. Simply increasing exposure to the sun, especially in short bursts during peak sun hours in the late morning and afternoon can significantly increase levels. Because of the risks of sun exposure, many look for alternative ways to increase Vitamin D and fortunately there are several options. Many foods contain Vitamin D -- especially fish and Vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk and other dairy products. For those that can not get enough Vitamin D from the sun or food, one can take a Vitamin D supplement, with popular initial doses ranging from 1000 IU to 5000 IU daily.

Like all things, with Vitamin D, more is not necessarily better. Some recent research suggests that excessively high Vitamin D levels may increase inflammation as well. Therefore, there is likely an ideal range of Vitamin D levels, and this range likely varies based on our ancestry, as different ancient societies evolved to varying amounts of sun exposure.

So many suffer the multiple serious effects of Vitamin D deficiency because they do not even know they have the condition, or that the effects can be reversed. Fortunately, for the first time, you can now test their Vitamin D levels from home. In addition to Vitamin D, with the EverlyWell Inflammation panel you can now test your levels of inflammation with a marker of inflammation, the high-sensitivity c-reactive protein, or hs-crp. Knowing how your Vitamin D correlates with your hs-crp can help you find and achieve your ideal levels of Vitamin D, thereby improving your mood, energy, risk of future diseases.