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Saturday
Dec012012

Vitamin D3 Please!

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem we face in Canada and unfortunately, very few are aware of the risks and the widespread problem of this deficiency.

Although it has certainly been proven that North Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, the level of deficiency is debated because there are varying opinions on what an optimal level of Vitamin D in the blood should be.  However, even with this debate, it is accepted that between 66-85% of North Americans are deficient.  It is especially important to note that one study showed that of the group that actually had sufficient Vitamin D, during the winter months their supplies were less than half, throwing them into deficiency.

An optimal vitamin D level is currently considered to be between 50-70 nnmol/L, while levels between 70-100 nmol/L would help fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  However, there is a growing consensus that even higher levels are desirable for overall health.  Note that nobody in the most comprehensive survey ever done in Canada had levels that were considered toxic (above 375 nmol/L).  

Although we call it a vitamin, D mostly functions as a type of hormone that our body can manufacture with the help of the sun.  It exists within our body in a few different forms.  It can function as a vitamin but the liver and kidney will convert it to it’s active hormone form.  Vitamin D is also responsible for multiple gene-regulatory functions and its major function is to maintain blood calcium and phosophorus levels as well as the maintenance of strong bones.  However, Vitamin D actually has many different functions in the body and is necessary for each organ to function properly.

So what can happen if we are deficient in Vitamin D?  Too many things - Vitamin D deficiency has now been shown to play a major role in cancer, autoimmune disorders, heart and cardiovascular disease, arthritis, depression/SAD (ever wonder why the “winter blues” come?), infertility/PMS, osteoporosis, and both types of diabetes.  Vitamin D deficiency will affect all thirty six organs.   

It is interesting to not that Vitamin D levels are low in people with the four most common cancers: breast, prostate, colon, and skin cancer.  In addition, there is clear evidence to show that your risk of dying from cancer becomes higher the further away from the equator you live - indicating a correlations to the amount of sunshine you may get every year.  One of the top vitamin D researchers in the world, Dr. William Grant noted that the cancer rate in Iceland is 90 per 100,000 people while in the tropics, it’s only 25 per 100,000 people.  He also notes that the majority of cancer deaths in the United Sates are from Vitamin D-sensitive cancers.

There are several different reasons for the Vitamin D deficiency epidemic in our continent, but it mostly boils down to the fact that the power of the sun just doesn’t reach us enough months of the year.  Even if we try to get outside in the winter months, we do not have enough skin exposed to be able to absorb it and the sun is so far away, that we really aren’t able to obtain much Vitamin D from it.  Another problem is that in the summer, when we actually can obtain sufficient D from the sun, we are so scared of cancer that many of us use sunscreens that are likely blocking our ability to manufacture they very vitamin that we need to fight cancer!  Anything above SPF8 will block Vitamin D.  It fascinating to know that chronic long term exposure to the sun like a farmer or lifeguard has been shown to be protective but short stints of intermittent, intense, infrequent burning followed by no sun is damaging to our body and can cause cancer.  In general, you should aim for at least 20 minutes daily in the sun with 40% of your skin exposed but again, the amount your body would manufacture would depend on how close to the equator you live. 

Vitamin D is especially important during the winter to keep the immune system strong.  It’s no coincidence that cold and flu season begin when our Vitamin D levels begin to decline.  Vitamin D stimulates your white blood cells to make a substance called cathelicidin which is a substance that attacks a wide variety of pathogens including fungi, viruses, bacteria and even tuberculosis - think of it as a natural broad spectrum antibiotic that continually fights whatever your body may encounter.  Furthermore, there have been at least five studies published that prove that the higher your vitamin D levels, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flus and other respiratory tract infections. 

Because of the climate we live in, it is essential to supplement with vitamin D during the winter months.  We simply cannot get nearly enough vitamin D from dietary sources nd there is no way to get it from the sun during our short, cold, and often grey days.  Vitamin D is able to store in our blood for a few weeks and in our fat for a few months but after that, levels will drop, often to a deficient level.  One study showed that the late winter average of vitamin D levels in the United Sates was only about 15-18 ng/ml which is seriously deficient state.

If you are curious about your personal Vitamin D levels, it is easy to get a blood test.  However, based on the research shown, it’s pretty clear that we are all deficient so many people just assume deficiency.  If you did want to track your progress or check your levels in the future after supplementing, you want to request a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D test from your doctor.  Note that you may have to pay out of pocket for this test.

Although there are still varied opinions about the optimal vitamin D dosage, current research is showing that at minimum, an adult needs 5,000 IU (recent studies are even suggestion 8,000 - 10,000 IU), to bring blood levels up to where they need to be for the winter. Children should take approximately 35 IU per pound and children aged 5-10 should take around 3,000 IU daily.  Note that you should always be taking D3 which is the natural form, and never D2 which is the synthetic form (associated with a risk of toxicity).

Supplementing with Vitamin D is a must.  Do not compromise your body’s health and make sure to keep up on your Vitamin D during the winter!  

 Sources used:

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2002/02/23/vitamin-d-part-five.aspx

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/statscan-finds-widespread-vitamin-d-deficiency-in-canadians/article596998/

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/03/28/Four-Times-the-Recommended-Vitamin-D-Dose-Needed-for-Winter.aspx

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/10/21/vitamin-d-is-a-better-way.aspx

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Reader Comments (1)

Great post, Meaghan!
It just makes sense that humans should NOT be living so far from the equator! I have been taking D2 spray. I didn't know it was synthetic. Usually I'm pretty good about knowing these things. I chose D2 because it was the only vegan one I could find on iHerb. Do you know of any good D3 supplements from a plant source? Is that impossible?

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Rushbrook

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