The vitamin D controversy continues. We last discussed vitamin D in an October blog about how low levels of D are linked to earlier dementia. If I talked about Vitamin D every week I wouldn’t soon run out of things to say. For example, if you search the government’s science database for “vitamin D” it returns over 66,000 papers. It is hard to name a chronic health complaint that is not linked to low vitamin D. With all that scientific study I’d think there would be some consensus about what we need…but I’d be wrong. The gurus tell us to stay out of the sun in order to avoid skin cancer and to avoid supplementing vitamin D.
Unfortunately, they can’t have it both ways. Our bodies make vitamin D in response to sunshine. It seems that we must have D for virtually every function in the body and it was the original plan that we would have ample sun exposure. (The plan also called for us to be protected against sun damage by a diet rich in internal sunscreen from plant foods.) To get sufficient vitamin D means having a lot of skin exposed to mid-day sun for 15 minutes to 2 hours depending on skin color (dark skin needs more). Modern life doesn’t make that easy for most of us, so bring on the supplements.
The vitamin D controversy may stem from orthodoxy’s gut level bias against supplementation and results in many mainstream docs seeming to have an irrational fear of them. Thankfully, many now at least do test for vitamin D. And, I’m happy that the test reports have gradually started listing higher minimum levels. However, most nutrition-oriented physicians are interested in achieving optimum levels of at least 40 ng/mL and probably more like 60-80.
In the recent shamefully inaccurate and one-sided Frontline report that slammed supplements, one of their guests recommended daily doses of vitamin D that are unlikely to get anywhere near those optimum blood levels. Oddly, when tests report low levels, many physicians prescribe periodic whopping doses of 50,000 IU which is not at all the way the body would naturally acquire vitamin D. In light of the benefit and low risk of side effects, most experts with an open mind to the research and a base of clinical experience recommend at least 2,000 IU a day and more often 4,000 to 7,000 IU. But, it is a very personalized matter and blood tests should reveal if a person’s supplement plan is working.
Here are some recent tidbits that I thought were interesting:
- A study found that higher levels of vitamin D were linked to lower risk of lung cancer. There was even a predictable dose-dependent association—as the blood levels went up, the risk went down. STUDY
- The People’s Pharmacy newspaper column printed a letter from a reader who said that she had widespread joint and muscle pain (fibromyalgia) and burning hands. Symptoms were vastly improved when she got her vitamin D levels into a good range. (Incidentally, that took 7,000 IU/day.)
- Having fat in a meal significantly improves the absorption of vitamin D supplements. STUDY
- On the other hand, body fat can reduce levels of D because our fat cells seem to soak it up.
- Vitamin D needs help from other nutrients such as the minerals Magnesium (another nutrient I could talk about every week), Zinc and Boron as well as the vitamins K and A.
If your doctor is not a vitamin D enthusiast, perhaps you can direct her or him to the non-profit Vitamin D Council for data about its role in prevention of many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, depression, infections, autoimmune diseases, autism and even premature death.