Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to play a role in almost every major disease, including:
- Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
- 17 varieties of Cancer (including breast, prostate and colon)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Infertility and PMS
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic Pain
- Periodontal disease
What is vitamin D?
Although it’s called a vitamin, vitamin D is really a hormone not a vitamin. Vitamins cannot be produced by your body, we get them from dietary sources, whereas hormones like vitamin D are made in your body. It’s your body’s only source of calcitrol (activated vitamin D), the most potent steroid hormone in the body.
What does vitamin D do?
Like all steroid hormones, vitamin D is involved in making hundreds of enzymes and proteins, which are crucial for preserving health and preventing disease. It has the ability to interact and affect more than 2,000 genes in the body. It enhances muscle strength and builds bone. It has anti-inflammatory effects and bolsters the immune system. It helps the action of insulin and has anti-cancer activity. This is why vitamin D deficiency has been linked with so many of the diseases of modern society. Because of its vast array of benefits, maintaining optimal levels of D is essential for your health.
Where do I get vitamin D from?
The only 2 reliable sources of vitamin D are the sun and supplements. Sunlight exposure is the only reliable way for your body to generate vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by your skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In fact, this is such an efficient system that most of us make approx. 20,000 units of vitamin D after only 20 minutes of summer sun without suntan lotion (or clothes!) That’s 100 times more than the government recommends per day! There must be a good reason why we make so much in so little time.
You do not generate vitamin D when sitting behind a glass window, whether in your car or at home because these UV rays cannot penetrate glass to generate vitamin D in your skin Also sunscreens, even weak ones, almost completely block your body’s ability to generate vitamin D.
The other reliable source is vitamin D3 supplements (not vitamin D2)
Only about 10% of your vitamin D comes from diet, so it is nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from your food.
What are the food sources of vitamin D?
1. Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil.
Fatty wild fish like mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines and herring
2. Fortified milk, orange juice and cereal
3. Dried Shitake mushrooms
4. Egg yolks
But to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food, you would have to eat at least 5 servings of salmon a day or drink 20 cups of fortified milk.
How much sunshine do I need?
All living things need sun, the key is balance. Too much sun exposure can cause melanoma and skin aging, while too little creates an inadequate production of vitamin D. The amount needed depends on the season, time of day, where you live, skin pigmentation and other factors. As a general rule, if you are not vitamin D deficient, about 20 minutes a day in the spring, summer and fall on your face and arms or legs without sunscreen is adequate. It doesn’t matter which part of the body you expose to the sun. Many people want to protect their face, so just don’t put sunscreen on the other exposed parts for those 20 minutes.
If you live north of 37 degrees latitude (approximately a line drawn horizontally connecting Norfolk, Virginia to San Francisco, California) sunlight is not sufficient to create Vitamin D in your skin in the winter months, even if you are sitting in the sun in a bathing suit on a warm January day! The further you live from the equator, the longer exposure you need to the sun in order to generate vitamin D
How much vitamin D do I need?
How much vitamin D you need varies with age, body weight, percent of body fat, latitude, skin coloration, season of the year, use of sun block, 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, dark-skinned people need more than fair skinned people, northern people need more than southern people, winter people need more than summer people, sun block lovers need more than sun block haters, sun-phobes need more than sun worshipers, and ill people may need more than well people.
What I and many of my colleagues around the country are finding is that even people spending what we thought was adequate amount of time in the sun, are still showing up with low blood vitamin D levels. I am not sure why at this stage but there is an easy and cheap solution…vitamin D supplementation.
How much vitamin D should I supplement with?
Most important is that you take vitamin D3, (cholecalciferol) the active form of vitamin D. Do not take vitamin D2 as it is not as biologically active nor as effective, and nor as safe as vitamin D3. And taking the right amount is crucial, most doctors tend to under dose. The current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: from 200 to 600 IU/day depending on one’s age, are way too low. These values were originally chosen because they were found to prevent osteomalacia (bone softening) and rickets.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
There is no clear pattern of symptoms. In fact many people remain asymptomatic despite low levels. But here are some of the more common symptoms:
- General muscle pain and weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Chronic pain
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Restless sleep
- Poor concentration
- Bladder problems
- Constipation or diarrhea
What about vitamin D toxicity?
It is impossible to generate too much vitamin D in your body from sunlight exposure: your body will self-regulate and only generate what it needs. Although very rare, it is possible to overdose and become toxic with supplementation as vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore stored in the body for longer periods of time. Therefore if you are taking 5,000 IU or more daily, you should have your blood levels monitored approximately every 3 months.
What blood test should I have to check my vitamin D levels?
The only blood test that can diagnose vitamin D deficiency is a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25 OH vitamin D). Unfortunately, some doctors are still ordering the wrong test, 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D. In fact a common cause of high 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D is a low 25(OH)D or vitamin D deficiency. So when doctors see the 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D is normal or high and tell their patients that they are OK, they are often vitamin D deficient.
Your doctor should do this test for you. Unfortunately even some of the labs, in particular Qwest, have had problems with correct results, usually giving erroneously high results.
If you don’t want to go through your doctor, the ZRT lab does a blood spot test that you can order without going through a doctor.
Read full story about Vitamin D on Huffingtonpost.com