What You Need to Know about Vitamin D

Vitamin D, the powerful “sunshine” nutrient, is known for its many wonderful benefits including protection from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.

Vitamin D regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. There are 30,000 genes in your body and vitamin D has been shown to influence over 2,000 of them. In fact, it is very rare for someone with optimized vitamin D levels to come down with the flu.

Perhaps because the term “vitamin D” contains the word “vitamin”, most people wrongly assume they can obtain adequate amounts by eating a healthy diet.

The natural diets most humans consume contain minimal vitamin D, unless those diets are rich in wild-caught fatty fish, sun-dried Shitake mushrooms, or wild reindeer meat. Small amounts of vitamin D are contained in fortified foods, such as fortified milk, some orange juices, and cereals, but such sources are minor contributors to vitamin D stores. Traditionally, the human vitamin D system began in the skin, not in the mouth.

Many are Deficient

People living in northern latitudes, African Americans, and other dark-skinned people make significantly less vitamin D than other groups. 60% of people with diabetes have vitamin D deficiency.

Body fat absorbs vitamin D. Obesity is a major risk factor for vitamin D deficiency, with obese African Americans at an even higher risk.

Studies showed very low levels of vitamin D among children, the elderly, and women.

In the United States, the late-winter vitamin D level in most people is only 15-18 ng/ml, which is a very serious deficiency level. Meanwhile, as many as 95 percent of senior citizens may be deficient, along with 85 percent of the American public.

How to Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

The ideal way to get vitamin D is by exposing your skin to appropriate sunlight. Unfortunately, for most of us, there simply isn’t enough sun exposure available for nearly half of the year. However, even when sun is available, many of us are modern day cavemen. We spend the majority of the day when sun is availabe inside — at work or in our home. Too few are regularly out in the sun light.

A general guide for sun exposure (without sunscreen) is 10 to 15 minutes a day, with at least 40 percent of your skin exposed. Dark-skinned people need significantly longer exposoure.

It is important to understand that in the summertime, when you put on your bathing suit and soak up the sun for 30 minutes, your body produces about 20,000 IUs of vitamin D — as much as exists in 200 glasses of milk!

Crucial Information about Vitamin D Supplementation

It is important to take a high-quality vitamin D supplement. If you opt for oral supplementation, remember that you only want a supplement with natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is human vitamin D. DO NOT — USE the synthetic and highly inferior vitamin D2.

This is typically prescribed by many well-intentioned doctors who seek to take advantage of a patient’s prescription coverage. Unfortunately, vitamin D2 is FAR more expensive than the real vitamin D3, which is one of the least expensive vitamins we have. But more importantly vitamin D2 does not work as well as D3 and can actually block the real D3 from working properly.

Bottom line: ONLY use vitamin D3 when supplementing.

Don’t Be Fooled — Order the Correct Test

There are two vitamin D tests: 1, 25(OH) D and 25(OH) D.

25(OH) D is the better marker of overall D status. It is this marker that is most strongly associated with overall health.

Deficient is < 50 ng/ml

Optimal 50-60 ng/ml

Excess >100 ng/ml

How to Dose Vitamin D Once You Know Your Levels

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and can be quite toxic. Once you have vitamin D toxicity, you can’t easily turn it around, which is why I always recommend getting your levels checked prior to taking oral vitamin D supplements.

Overdosing on vitamin D from sun exposure is highly unlikely as your body has a built-in “failsafe” feedback loop, which will tend to shut down production when your levels are healthy. It is important to get optimal sun exposure, as opposed to lots of sun exposure. You know you’ve had enough once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink. Beyond that you’re only increasing your risk of getting burned, which can cause skin damage.

It is important to be very careful when using oral vitamin D therapy and make certain you have your blood levels checked. Many of you may choose to ignore this warning, but I am telling you in no uncertain terms, that even though vitamin D has enormous potential for improving your health, it also has significant potential to worsen it if used improperly.

For safety purposes it is advisable to optimize your vitamin D levels only with the help of a trained health care professional.

By Kay Spears, San Antonio Nutritionist

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