Depression, acne, chronic illness, even cancer have been whispered amongst the conditions that can possibly benefit from Vitamin D. So, is all the hype accurate and is Vitamin D really that big a deal? And should you be taking it? The short answer: yes.
Most people don’t know this, but Vitamin D really isn’t a vitamin at all. It’s a prohormone (something that can be converted to a hormone) produced in the skin in response to exposure to sunlight. Why should you care about this? Because Vitamin D is crucial for the healthy development, growth and maintenance of a human body from the time that we’re growing fetuses until the day we leave this Earth. (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/207753.php)
So, why the buzz? Because Vitamin D deficiency has recently become the most common medical condition. (http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2009/jan2009_Millions-of-Needless-Deaths_01.htm) What’s more, in most cases, its entirely preventable.
Why Do I Need It?
The research demonstrates that adequate levels of Vitamin D may help lower the risk of many diseases and conditions such as cancer (19 different kinds and counting . . . including skin cancer!), diabetes, cardiac disease, autism, infertility, asthma . . . and that’s just for starters.
Why are we all of a sudden seeing this widespread deficiency? (Estimates indicate more than 50% of the global population is at risk: http://www.physorg.com/news165588740.html) There are lots of factors that come into play like skin pigmentation, age, genetic variations, and the latitude of your area, but the biggest reason is really that we hardly see the sun anymore.
Why Am I Only Hearing About This Now?
Back in the late 80’s, sunshine made the carcinogen list thanks to cosmetic and sunblock companies the nation over. Ever since then we’ve been avoiding the sun religiously, covering up as much as we can and slathering sunblock with an SPF of at least 30 on the parts that have to be exposed. It doesn’t help that our modern culture has us indoors about 85% of the time whether its in a cubicle, in front of a TV, playing video games or surfing the internet. Ever since, we’ve seen asthma, autism, and autoimmune disease rates skyrocket.
Back in the days when our ancestors were hunting and gathering, they had no choice but to be out in the sun. They depended on it because they needed to see to do their work, stay warm to survive, etc. The notion that sunlight has somehow become dangerous now is just ridiculous.
How Do I Know If I’m Low?
So, how can you find out if you are vitamin D deficient? Get your blood levels tested by your doctor. (Chances are, if you don’t have regular full body exposure to the sun, you are deficient.) Ask him/her for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D, test. Make absolutely sure of this. Most doctors order a 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D test, which does not measure the right thing. (Why do they do this? Most doctors don’t know the difference. Why is that? That part is still a mystery to me.) If your insurance covers this, hooray! (They are covering so little nowadays. ) If not, the Vitamin D Council offers an inexpensive in-home testing kit where you can test your levels yourself and ship them off to ZRT Laboratory to have them interpreted. (http://www.zrtlab.com/vitamindcouncil/)
Blood levels of Vitamin D should be around 50-80 ng/mL (125-200 nmol/L) for both children and adults. Most doctors would consider a level of 30 ng/mL to be sufficient but, once again, this is inaccurate and outdated. The most recent research demonstrated beneficial effects of Vitamin D at 50 ng/mL, and these benefits are not seen at 40 ng/mL.
How Do I Get It?
How can you make sure that you and your family are getting enough Vitamin D? There are only two things you can do (but they’re totally doable, no worries). Go out in the sun and get UVB exposure and/or Vitamin D supplementation. This is one area of health where diet is not adequate to boost Vitamin D levels because the foods that contain it, have too little of it to be of any significant benefit. Sun exposure is the easiest and cheapest option (free).
How to do sun exposure properly: make sure at least 40% of your body is exposed to the sun’s rays without sunblock. Between the hours of 10 am-2 pm is when the body will make the most Vitamin D. In general, a fair skinned person will need approximately 15 minutes in the sun to produce adequate Vitamin D (full body summer sun exposure produces about 10,000 IU), while someone with darker skin will need significantly more time to produce the same amount.
This brings us to a very important point: because the latitude of where you live, your skin pigmentation, and the season of the year are all critical factors for determining whether Vitamin D production is even possible, it is very likely that sun exposure may not be enough to get your Vitamin D levels where they need to be for optimal health. (http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-to-get-your-vitamin-d/uvb-exposure-sunlight-and-indoor-tanning/) For example, if you are African American outside in the winter in Boston, you are out of luck. Vitamin D production is impossible during this time for that area and to top it off your skin color predisposes you to a higher prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, supplementation, as well as sun exposure, should be very strongly considered.
How Much Should I Be Taking?
So, how much Vitamin D do you need to take? Nobody knows. Why? Dr. Cannell of the Vitamin D Council states it well, “Because everyone’s situation is either a lot, or at least a little, different. How much vitamin D you need varies with age, body weight, percent of body fat, latitude, skin coloration, season of the year, use of sunblock, individual variation in sun exposure, and—probably—how ill you are. As a general rule, old people need more than young people, big people need more that little people, fat people need more than skinny people, northern people need more than southern people, dark-skinned people need more than fair skinned people, winter people need more than summer people, sunblock lovers need more than sunblock haters, sun-phobes need more than sun worshipers, and ill people may need more than well people.”
The Vitamin D Council recommends the following amounts in the absence of regular sun exposure:
- Healthy children under the age of 1 years – 1,000 IU.
- Healthy children over the age of 1 years – 1,000 IU per every 25 lbs of body weight.
- Healthy adults and adolescents – at least 5,000 IU.
- Pregnant and lactating mothers – at least 6,000 IU.
Because of the enormous variation that could exist between different people, these numbers are estimates. These numbers are significantly higher than what the Food and Nutrition Board recommends (600 IU for the general population and 800 IU for seniors). Why? Because a healthy human body utilizes around 3,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D per day. (Someone at the FNB needs to get cracking.)
Which One Should I Take?
Vitamin D comes in oil and powder form. Both are equally effective at raising Vitamin D levels. However, it is only Vitamin D3 that has been shown in the research to be beneficial. There is a Vitamin D2 that vegans like to use because it is not animal derived, but it is unnatural to the body since we don’t produce it, and doesn’t act the same way as Vitamin D3. (http://www.nutraingredients.com/Health-condition-categories/Cognitive-and-mental-function/Vitamin-D3-87-percent-more-potent-than-D2-Study; http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/?o=1441)
Many of my patients report that they feel “alive again” once they start taking Vitamin D. Their fatigue disappears, their energy returns, their mood swings decrease and their medical concerns start to ebb away. I’ve seen migraines disappear, anxiety decrease, and the flu basically bounce off Vitamin D sufficient individuals, as if they had some kind of barrier around them.
Miracle in a bottle, you say? Indeed, I must agree. Do yourself, and your family, a favor and pick up a bottle today.