Chances are good recently that you’ve been hearing more and more regarding the controversial Vitamin D topic, especially as we make the shift with Daylight Savings into shorter hours of sunlight each day and, from here in the Pacific Northwest and further north, significantly more cloud cover. There is no question about the importance of vitamin D and its wonderful health benefits; the focus surrounding appropriate vitamin D levels is whether the current recommendation of just 400 IU daily (in supplemental form), along with the encouragement to slather on sunscreen in even the cloudiest of conditions, is actually doing more harm to our health than good.
Recent reports show that populations around the world are suffering from vitamin D deficiency; in the U.S. alone, only one third of us are getting enough of this critical vitamin to promote optimal health and prevent potentially severe bone fracture rates. There is also evidence that vitamin D deficiency increases during the winter months in North America; the Pacific Northwest population in particular fails to make enough vitamin D from sunshine alone between the months of November and February. Further north in Canada, the issue is extended from September through March. Why would a colder season have anything to do with whether or not you are getting your daily requirement, you may ask? Because the very best source of Vitamin D is our lovely star, the Sun. Our bodies use the sunlight to make Vitamin D from cholesterol in our skin. And with the days being shorter and colder, it’s very possible you are not soaking up enough rays.
For this reason vitamin D is frequently called the “Sunshine Vitamin.” It’s necessary for normal bone mineralization and growth, maintenance of muscle strength and coordination, cardiovascular health, and robust and balanced immune function. During winter, it’s very possible you’re not getting your daily dose of rays, due to shortened daylight hours or sun-blocking weather conditions. But even when the sun is shining, how often do you actually see it? If you’re like most people, not often—especially if you work in an office or never leave the house without covering yourself in sunscreen.
Without much success we have long attempted to supplement Vitamin D by consuming dairy and various other products that have been fortified with the vitamin. However, due to many of us restricting whole milk and other fat-containing dairy, we lose a common channel of delivery.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that it can be toxic in very large doses. As a result of this somewhat irrational fear of vitamin toxicity, many people are instead far undershooting the amount of fat soluble vitamins their bodies need and deficiencies have become relatively common, vitamin D being among those at the top of the list. In fact, in the most recent revision of the Dietary Reference Intakes, the recommended dietary intake for certain age groups was increased as much as 50 percent as vitamin D deficiencies seem to be developing more frequently.
Curious as to what happens when the body does not get enough Vitamin D? The list is surprisingly long. Calcium is the major structural element of bones and teeth. Your body needs several nutrients in order for calcium to be absorbed and used properly. Two of these nutrients are vitamin D and vitamin K, K2 to be precise. Vitamin D increases absorption of calcium from the small intestine so the body receives maximum benefit, while vitamin K2 helps make sure calcium builds up in the bones and not in soft tissues like the eyes or kidneys. Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Chronic inflammation is reduced by having adequate Vitamin D in the system. Harvard University researchers found that Vitamin D also reduces tumor growth. Vitamin D also promotes a healthy, balanced immune system through its key role in regulation and differentiation of immune system cells, and it supports cardiovascular health and normal functioning of the nervous system.
Insulin regulation and diabetes are also likely affected by adequate amounts of “D”. Syndromes of Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis are in the class of auto-immune conditions helped by this essential fat-soluble vitamin. Researchers estimate that our current systemic levels of Vitamin D are about 10-15% of the levels in our ancestors, and not surprisingly, the levels of debilitating auto-immune diseases in our ancestors were far less than 10-15% of current levels.
The older we are, the more Vitamin D we need. How much is enough? This varies to some degree. The absolute best source, that big ball of fire in the sky, provides a whopping 10,000-30,000 IU per day. In comparison, most dietary supplements provide between 2000 -10000 IU per serving, but not all of these forms of Vitamin D are created equal. If you do opt to use a supplement to compensate for lost hours in the sun, it is imperative to make sure that it is of high quality, and even more importantly, in the form of Vitamin D that is actually utilized by the body
The form of vitamin D not readily used by the body is most often found in non-dairy milks, cereals, and lower quality fortified products, called vitamin D2. Also known as ergocalciferol, this form comes from fortified foods, plant foods, and some lower quality supplements. The version of Vitamin D best utilized by the body is called D3, and is the same as the form made naturally by the sun. Also known as cholecalciferol, D3 can be acquired through diet (fish, eggs, liver and higher quality fortified foods) and exposure to direct sunlight – which unfortunately means that sunlight beaming through your office window all day isn’t stimulating the production of even one single molecule of vitamin D in your body.
Light-induced synthesis occurs in the skin when ultraviolet light (in this case UVB only, not UVA) reacts with cholesterol in the skin, converting it to cholecalciferol. This molecule is then altered by the liver and kidneys to form D3, the physiologically active form of vitamin D. Unfortunately, our dietary sources are inadequate in the winter, which is why at Robust Life Center we strongly recommend supplementation with Vitamin D3, Essential Fatty Acids, Calcium and Vitamin K2.