Many people take a multi-vitamin. Some people take multiple supplements. However, an often overlooked vitamin deserves your closer scrutiny – vitamin D. New research indicates that vitamin D has holistic effects on the body that cannot be replicated by any other supplement. These positive effects include, but are not limited to, reduced cancer rates, reduce incidences of heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduced incidences of influenza, and more. Best of all, for most people, obtaining the proper dosage of vitamin D is incredibly safe, simple, and inexpensive. In fact, some researchers believe so strongly in the benefits of vitamin D that they consider it “malpractice” for a physician to treat any condition without first determining if a patient’s vitamin D levels are in the proper range.
As with all information related to healthcare, personal fitness, and nutrition, please consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet or lifestyle. Additionally, you can overdose with vitamin D supplements. Watch your intake and have your vitamin D levels tested periodically via a blood test.
Vitamin D Misconceptions
Actually, vitamin D is not a vitamin, but a “prohormone” (any substance that can be converted a hormone) produced by the body in the presence of sunlight. Because vitamin D is actually a “prohormone,” which your body produces from cholesterol, it influences your entire body — receptors that respond to the vitamin have been found in almost every type of human cell, from your brain to your bones.
Vitamin D also differentiates itself from other vitamins because the best source of it is the sun via our skin, not from something we eat via our mouths like most vitamins. Vitamin D does not exist in appreciable quantities in normal human diets. While some vitamin D may be consumed by eating some types of fish and drinking fortified milk, the quantity of vitamin D from these sources falls far short of our needs. We simply cannot obtain adequate levels of vitamin D from our diet. However, within 20 minutes of full-body sun exposure, most people will generate up to 20,000 units of vitamin D. To generate even 5,000 units of vitamin D, an individual would need to consume nearly 50 glasses of milk or 10-12 multivitamins – something no one should do! [JWR Adds: Remember, toxicity is a problem with all of the fat-soluble vitamins, K, A, D, and E.]
With more people working indoors, commuting inside of cars and trains, and, more recently, people using copious amounts of sunscreen in an effort to thwart skin cancer, opportunities to obtain vitamin D from sunlight has greatly diminished. In fact, many people may be in a vitamin D “crisis” and not even know it! And, considering how vitamin D affects so many bodily functions, many symptoms and diseases that are being treated with a variety of pharmaceuticals could be greatly reduced or possibly eliminated by simply increasing vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D – the Superhero Vitamin
While correlation does not imply causation, the following is a partial list of documented events as they relate to vitamin D:
- The incidence of influenza is inversely correlated with outdoor temperatures (i.e. the higher the outdoor temperature, the lower the number of cases of influenza).
- Children exposed to sunlight are less likely to get colds.
- Influenza is more common in the tropics during the rainy season when people are indoors and receiving less sunlight.
- Volunteers deliberately infected with a weakened flu virus – first in the summer and then again in the winter – showed significantly different clinical courses in the different seasons.
- The incidences of influenza are much lower in the months both during and immediately following the summer.
- Vitamin D deficiency is a major factor in at least 17 types of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, and more.
- One recent large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled study on vitamin D and cancer showed that vitamin D can cut overall cancer risk by as much as 60 percent! This was such groundbreaking news, the Canadian Cancer Society has actually begun endorsing the vitamin as a cancer-prevention therapy.
- Similar results were shown in another study investigating vitamin D’s impact on breast cancer. It discovered that light-skinned women who had high amounts of long-term sun exposure had half the risk of developing advanced breast cancer (cancer that spreads beyond your breast) as women with lower amounts of regular sun exposure.
- When JoEllen Welsh, a researcher with the State University of New York at Albany, injected a potent form of vitamin D into human breast cancer cells, half of them shriveled up and died within days.
- The effects of vitamin D were even more dramatic on breast cancer cells injected into mice. After several weeks of treatment, the cancer tumors in the mice shrank by an average of more than 50 percent. Some tumors disappeared. Similar results have been achieved on colon and prostate cancer tumors in mice.
- A study by Dr. William Grant, Ph.D., internationally recognized research scientist and vitamin D expert, found that about 30 percent of cancer deaths — which amounts to 2 million worldwide and 200,000 in the United States — could be prevented each year with higher levels of vitamin D.
- According to a new report, low levels of vitamin D may double the risk of stroke in Caucasians. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
- And for you sports fans, the team physicians for the Chicago Blackhawks credit rigorous vitamin D supplements with improving player performance and being a contributing factor in the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup Championship.
In the past few years, vitamin D is has finally been receiving the attention it deserves considering its critical role in human bodily function. Almost weekly, new research is released confirming the benefits of vitamin D. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies prefer to manufacture countless drugs to alleviate symptoms that are often caused by lack of vitamin D. These pharmaceutical companies don’t like to advocate vitamin D as a valid course of treatment because they cannot patent vitamin D and profit from it. And, because these pharmaceutical companies advertise heavily in all media outlets (including magazines and online news sites), they may exert influence to suppress articles on homeopathic and natural treatments.
UV Rays and Vitamin D
Similar to cholesterol which has two main types (HDL – the “good” cholesterol; LDL – the “bad” cholesterol), sunlight contains two wavelengths: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVB is the winner (the “good” waves), as these are what converts into vitamin D. However, UVA (the “bad” waves) is the culprit that leads to skin cancer. Additionally, UVA is not affected by the position of the sun or clouds whereas UVB is dependent on both of these factors. Ironically, UVB rays are at their most intense at mid-day – the time of day that most people try to avoid sunlight. Unfortunately, by spending time outside in the morning or late afternoon, you are exposed to UVA rays (the “bad” rays) while receiving virtually no UVB rays (the “good” rays).
Recently the FDA announced new guidelines for sunscreens. In the past, many sunscreens only provided protection against UVB rays which cause sunburn, but offer no protection against UVA rays which cause skin cancer (in recent years, more sunscreens have been offering protection against both types of rays). Insidiously, this combination of UVB protection and no UVA protection is the worst possible combination because the benefits of vitamin D (via UVB rays) is reduced or severely curtailed and no UVA protection is provided (contributing to skin cancers). In fact, some hypothesize that the advent of sunscreen actually has contributed to the rise in all types of cancer, including skin cancers, because these sunscreens cause a sharp drop in vitamin D levels which is correlated with increased cancer risk.
How Much Sunlight Do I Need?
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has doubled its recommendation for daily vitamin D intake in children. The new guideline is 400 international units (IU) each day. Many researchers believe this recommendation is still far too low and children should receive a minimum of 1,500 IU per day if they are not exposed to daily sunlight.
The best “rule of thumb” is enough sunlight to turn your skin the lightest shade of pink (for most people, this will be less than 30 minutes of sun exposure). Also, keep in mind that exposing just your head and arms is probably not enough, you will need more exposure (e.g. upper body, legs). Don’t forget – sunburn is bad! You don’t gain any additional vitamin D by getting a sunburn and only expose yourself to long-term skin damage and possibly skin cancer. Another good “rule of thumb” is this: If your shadow is longer than you are tall, then you are not receiving the best UVB rays.
If your unique situation prevents you from receiving direct sunlight, another option is take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the preferred choice, not vitamin D2. The most recent and respected research for oral supplements is 35 IU per pound of body weight. For a 200-pound person, this would be approximately 5,000 IU; for a 50-pound child, this would be approximately 1,700 IU. You can purchase vitamin D supplements at most any drug store or health food store. For children, I give my children “Lil Critters” vitamin D gummy vitamins (purchased at Wal-Mart and Target).
In the future, if diseases increase and access to physicians and antibiotics are limited, vitamin D can and should be considered an intervention method. For someone suffering from influenza or a bacterial infection or most any illness, increasing vitamin D levels can and should be considered. If regular access to sunlight is not possible, increasing oral supplements to 15,000 IU, 20,000 IU, or more should be considered. Some researchers believe 50,000 IU per day for less than 10 days  will not result in overexposure to vitamin D and may help thwart or mitigate infection and disease.
Warning: You can overdose on vitamin D! If you receive daily sunlight, most likely you do not need oral vitamin D supplements. If you need to take oral vitamin D supplements for a long period of time, I strongly recommend that you have your physician check your vitamin D level with a blood test (the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test).
My Personal Experience with Vitamin D
For several years, I have been ensuring that I receive adequate levels of sunlight during the fair weather months and supplementing with oral vitamin D during the winter months. During this time, I have had no influenza, virtually no colds, and no other serious health issues. During the winter months, I take 5,000 IU each day. If I am traveling on business or not feeling well, I will increase my dose to two to three times that amount. In the fair weather months, I spend time outdoors in natural sunlight to obtain vitamin D. Finally, as part of my preparations, I keep plenty of vitamin D in 5,000 IU capsules on hand. Considering the benefits of vitamin D and the potential increase in diseases during “the Crunch”, vitamin D supplements should be as important as bullets and beans in everyone’s preparations.