How important is Vitamin D?

FACT: A vitamin D deficiency may result in as much as a 50 percent increased potential for diabetes.

FACT: A vitamin D deficiency puts you at a higher risk for cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, and melanoma.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY is a widespread phenomenon with significant implications for health. In modern society vitamin D deficiency is the rule, rather than the exception. While we can blame more severe cases of deficiency on grains, it also commonly occurs independent of grain consumption. The restoration of vitamin D levels is second only to grain elimination when considering the most powerful healthy lifestyle strategies.

Modern lifestyles have compromised our vitamin D status. How? Over the centuries we began inhabiting cold climates depriving ourselves of year-round sunlight, wearing clothes that cover our skin, and increasing out time spent indoors. This is crucial since exposure to sunlight is necessary to activate the vitamin D in our skin. We have also adopted an aversion to organ consumption. Many organ meats contain high levels vitamin D, especially liver.

Let’s not forget aging, which is associated with a progressive loss of the ability to activate vitamin D in the skin. An interesting fact is that, after age 40, the majority of us experience decreased ability to activate sufficient amounts of vitamin D in our skin from the exposure to sunlight. Living in the tropics is no guarantee of adequate vitamin D status. A recent assessment of elderly males living in a tropical climate revealed that 66.7 percent were vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D deficiency allows a number of abnormal health phenomena to occur:

  • Greater inflammation, as is reflected in higher C-reactive protein levels, tumor necrosis factor, and others
  • Higher blood sugar and resistance to insulin (conditions that lead to diabetes)
  • Injury to pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin
  • Weight gain
  • Greater risk for osteoporosis and fractures
  • Periodontal disease
  • Higher risk for cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, and melanoma
  • Higher risk for heart attack, heart failure, and cardiovascular mortality
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia during pregnancy
  • Depression and seasonal affective disorder
  • Autoimmune/inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis)

For many of these, the association between lower levels of vitamin D and disease is powerful. For example, a vitamin D deficiency may result in as much as a 50 percent increased potential for diabetes. Accordingly, all of the above phenomena are improved or reversed with the restoration of vitamin D to healthy levels, including the facilitation of weight loss.

Please note that achieving an ideal level of vitamin D is key— not too low, but also not too high. The ideal level of vitamin D, measured as 25-hydroxy remains open to debate. However, applying epidemiological observations to the above diseases, combined with studies that demonstrate vitamin D’s relationship to minimizing unhealthy levels of parathyroid hormone that can impair bone health, suggest that 60 to 70 ng/ ml is the ideal range.

Too much vitamin D is also not a good idea. Besides provoking abnormal calcium deposition in tissues, vitamin D levels that exceed 100 mg/ dl are associated with increased potential for the abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

The majority of people require vitamin D doses of 4,000 to 8,000 international units (IU) taken in an oil-based gelcap form to achieve the target value of 60 to 70ng/ ml.

Vitamin D should be taken as D3, or cholecalciferol, which is the form that naturally occurs in the human body and is widely available as a nutritional supplement. You do not want the form found in mushrooms (D2 or ergocalciferol), which is also the form in prescription vitamin D. In this instance, the nutritional supplement form is superior to the prescription form.

Ideally, your vitamin D level should be reassessed every 6 to 12 months to maintain desired levels, as your needs may change over time. And, if you have an uncooperative or uninformed doctor, you can do it yourself, as discussed in the video above.

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Dr. William Davis

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