Probiotics: Your key to vitamin D

Seems like everyone knows the importance of getting more vitamin D, but not everyone knows the best way to get it.

Sure, you need a supplement -- but you also need the ability to absorb what's in that supplement so your body can put it to use and raise your vitamin D levels. That requires a balanced belly full of the friendly bacteria needed for good digestion.

Just one problem: If there's anything more common than a D deficiency these days, it's a gut so unbalanced that it's a wonder you don't tip over.

That's why new research finds that one great way to boost your vitamin D levels isn't by boosting your supplement dose. It's by taking a probiotic -- specifically a bacterial strain called Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242.

In just nine weeks, supplements of L. reuteri can boost your blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D by 25 percent, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study didn't look beyond D, but a well-rounded gut full of helpful bugs can also improve the absorption rates of other fat-soluble nutrients.

And the strain used in this study packs a few other benefits as well. For one, L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 is a great way to control cholesterol levels naturally. And if that's not enough, it's also been shown to help improve digestion, fight infection and more.

But let's stick to vitamin D levels for today -- because one of the biggest problems with the sunshine vitamin is that many of the people who are deficient don't even know it, and that includes people who take a supplement.

They pop their vitamins and assume they're covered -- and they never bother to get their levels tested to confirm that the supplement is doing the trick.

Don't let that happen to you.

Along with taking a supplement of between 2,000 IUs and 5,000 IUs a day, have your levels checked by a holistic doctor -- and if supplements aren't increasing your blood levels, work with that doctor to find out why.

In some cases, it could simply be a low-quality supplement. In others, it could be anything from the gut imbalances I just mentioned, to obesity, to problems converting the form of D you ingest to the form your body uses.

Whatever the reason, get it taken care of -- because you need highly vitamin D levels for your bones, your brain and everything in between.