The Rise of the Sunshine Vitamin: Why Vitamin D Matters & How to Get Enough

by Simla on August 23, 2010

Vitamin D intrigues me. It is classified as both a vitamin and a hormone, and has remained somewhat of an enigma for several decades. A heightened awareness of vitamin D in recent years accompanied with a rising tide of research is bringing this micronutrient to the forefront of nutritional science. My personal interest stems from my reliance on Vitamin D3 supplementation, which has helped me reverse my multiple autoimmune conditions (including fibromyalgia and undifferentiated connective tissue disorder) as well as other health issues. Another personal reason is that, sadly, my maternal uncle passed away at the age of 18, likely due to rickets resulting from an overprotected childhood.

Why Am I Likely to Be Deficient in Vitamin D?

Most of us live a sheltered life. Literally. We go from our homes, to our offices, to the grocery store, and back home. In cars. And we’ve been, rightly or wrongly, taught to be afraid of the sun (skin cancer! wrinkles!). We don’t get enough Vitamin D naturally from the sun anymore, and we certainly don’t get enough from our foods (animals, the main food-source of Vitamin D in our diets, are now mostly raised indoors, never once seeing the sun… or you may be a vegan or vegetarian).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, when I tell you that you’re likely deficient in Vitamin D!

Vitamin D deficiency is now one of the most common contributors to a slew of chronic health conditions, such as depression, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, sleep disorders, and 17 different types of cancer.

How Can I Know For Sure If I’m Deficient in Vitamin D?

The best way to know whether your Vitamin D levels are adequate is to request a simple blood test from your doctor, or by conducting a simple home test.

This blood test is called the 25-OH vitamin D test (alternative names = 25 hydroxyvitamin D test; 25(OH)D; Calcidiol 25-hydroxycholecalciferol test). The conventionally recommended “normal” range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), but you should really aim to have your levels be between 50-80 ng/mL (or 125–200 nM/L) year-round.

What Can I Do to Correct My Vitamin D Levels?
(see ** Important Disclaimer ** at the end of the article)

One of the best things you can do with the remaining days of summer is get out and get some sunshine. A rule of thumb is to spend 15-30 minutes a day outdoors with as much of your body exposed to sunlight as possible, as many days of the year as possible. Doing so will help your body naturally generate about 10,000 IUs of Vitamin D daily. Vitamin D is stored in the body for longer-term use, so if you bottle up enough during the spring, summer, and fall, it may last you through the rest of the year.

Note that sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 4 can cut Vitamin D production by up to 80%.

That said, make sure you practice safe sun by following these guidelines:

Some of you, for one or more of the reasons above, will need to use Vitamin D3 supplements to reach and maintain adequate Vitamin D levels in your body.

How to Safely Use Vitamin D Supplements

If you prefer to or need to supplement with Vitamin D, use pure Vitamin D3 capsules encapsulated in olive oil, rice bran oil, or fish oil (not the cheaper soybean oil) that don’t contain any artificial ingredients, artificial colors, genetically modified ingredients, or any of the common allergens (i.e. wheat, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, fish/shellfish, or corn).

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 400 IU daily. However, there are numerous vitamin D experts that believe the RDA should and will be raised to a minimum of 1000-5000 IU daily due to recent research showing current RDA levels to be inadequate in preventing chronic vitamin D deficiency at a sub-clinical level. Current research shows the human body needs about 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3 a day.

Vitamin D2 is most commonly used to fortify foods, but it tends to be poorly metabolized. Vitamin D3 is the preferred supplemental form, but you should take the Calcitriol form if you have kidney disease as that means you lack the ability to convert vitamin D to this hormonal form.

Vitamin D supplementation, combined with food sources and sensible exposure to sunlight, can be used therapeutically for Vitamin D Deficiency Syndrome (VDDS), osteoporosis, osteomalacia, myalgias, and, of course, rickets. There is increasing evidence that vitamin D can also be used therapeutically and/or preventatively for some cancers (especially prostate, breast, and colon), autism, heart disease, chronic pain, hyperparathyroidism, influenza, myopathy, depression, hypertension, IBD, muscular weakness, arthritis, obesity, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and some mental illnesses. Dosages ranging from 1,000-10,000 IU a day are expected to become routine in the future with such conditions being linked to vitamin D deficiency.

A sample therapy for active fibromyalgia, for example, would be regular exposure to sunlight (15-30 minutes a day with at least arms and legs exposed) and/or 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 combined with 2-5 grams of fish oil supplementation per day, with periodic inclusion of wild fatty fish in the diet.

Vitamin D is best absorbed by the body in the presence of some healthy fats (e.g. omega 3 fats from walnuts or flax seeds), calcium, zinc, vitamin K2, a tiny amount of vitamin A, boron, and, most importantly, magnesium. Collectively, these are called “nutrient co-factors.”

Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, safer varieties of fatty fish (salmon, anchovies, sardines), fortified foods, and eggs from hens raised outdoors or given vitamin D.

Why is Vitamin D So Important?

The body uses multiple forms of Vitamin D. Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3, or the actual “vitamin D”) is the natural form which is created in our bodies as UVB rays from the sun interact with our skin. Vitamin D3 travels through the liver, where it is converted to 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, otherwise known as Calcidiol, or 25(OH)D, a prehormone. Calcidiol is the form of vitamin D tested for blood level analysis. The kidneys and other cells convert Calcidiol to Calcitriol or 1,25(OH)2D3, a potent steroid hormone.

In the human body, vitamin D:

… among many other functions.

A severe deficiency in vitamin D results in rickets in children, showing up as bowed legs, softened skull bones, spinal curvature, and increased joint size. In adults, a severe deficiency results in osteomalacia, a condition of decreased bone strength and density plus joint pain, primarily observed in the elderly who do not get adequate sunlight. However, based on recent findings, less obvious levels of vitamin D deficiency have been connected to a wider host of conditions, ranging from cancer to autoimmune conditions to heart disease (myalgias). Vitamin D deficiency is implicated in 17 different types of cancer alone.

How about Vitamin D Toxicity?

Toxicity from excess vitamin D, known as hypervitaminosis D, results in hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood. Hypercalcemia can result in bone loss, kidney stones and damage, and the calcification of organs. Some medical conditions can increase the risk of hypercalcemia when exposed to any levels of vitamin D, such as: sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, lymphoma, and hyperparathyroidism. This hypersensitivity to vitamin D is often confused with toxicity.

Disagreement exists in the medical community about what levels of vitamin D induce toxicity. To date, the upper limit has been established as 2,000 IU a day. Recent research shows, however, that one would have to ingest 176,000,000 IU of vitamin D to reach the LD50 levels (toxicity levels) identified in dogs and that human toxicity probably begins to occur after chronic ingestion of 40,000 IU a day, although such a case has never been documented. Sunlight exposure has never been shown to result in vitamin D toxicity, as the body self-regulates against excess production.

Now stop reading and go out and get some Vitamin D!

Bibliography

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/. “Vitamin D.” Linus Pauling Institute. Accessed July 26, 2008.

http://vitamind.ucr.edu/history.html. “History of Vitamin D.” University of California, Riverside. 1999. Accessed July 29, 2008.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003569.htm. Accessed August 22, 2010.

http://www.vitamindcouncil.org. Vitamin D Council. Accessed July 25, 2008 and August 22, 2010.

Murray, Michael T., N.D. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1996.

***

** IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER **

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate medical or health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.

***

© 2009-2010 Delicious Health, Inc.

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“Authored by Simla Somturk Wickless, MBA, CHC, CNE, an integrative health, nutrition, and lifestyle coach whose mission is to transform busy bodies into healthy, balanced beings (TM). To learn how to zing your energy, tame your stress, and take back control of your health, register for her free monthly eZine at www.enjoydelicioushealth.com or read more on her blog at www.delicioushealthblog.com.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lisa October 19, 2010 at 9:12 am

As an artist, I certainly don’t get enough sunlight to fill my daily needs. I guess taking an extra walk around the block instead of the gym might help.

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