The most important hormone shown to prevent heart disease, diabetes, immune diseases and cancer in fact, a hormone with more than 1,000 critical functions, is Vitamin D. That’s right, “Vitamin D” is in fact, a hormone, not a vitamin.
We all know that Vitamin D and calcium are responsible for bone growth and that is the primary function of Vitamin D. Therefore, as you would imagine, adults with severe Vitamin D deficiency suffer from a variety of skeletal problems: Hyperparathyroidism, Osteoporosis, Osteomalacia (skeletal pain and tenderness), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myositis of which many of these are easily misdiagnosed.
However, once somebody receives optimal Vitamin D levels, the change can be dramatic. For reference, according to the FDA, the normal range of Vitamin D in the blood is from 30 to 100. If your blood level is closer to 30, consider that studies have found a 50-60% decrease in Multiple Sclerosis with Vitamin D levels between 42 and 50, and a level of 52 results in an 80% reduction with a Vitamin D level of 53. For Kidney Cancer, there is a 76% reduction with a Vitamin D level of 48.
The number two cause of death and disability in women in the United States, surpassed slightly by cardiovascular disease, is Breast Cancer. With a Vitamin D level of 50, there is a 50% reduction of breast cancer and with a level of 65, there is a 67% reduction.
Vitamin D deficiency contributes to at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as Heart Disease, Stroke, Hypertension, Autoimmune Diseases, type 1 and 2 Diabetes, Depression, Chronic Pain and Osteoarthritis. Significantly, while diabetes has become an “epidemic” in the US, the incidence of Type 1 Diabetes is close to zero in regions worldwide with high UVB irradiance(lots of sunshine)
What about the safety of taking Vitamin D supplements? Multiple studies are available. The consensus seems to be that anywhere between 30,000-40,000 international units per day are safe.
Without boring you with specific numbers, because they are different throughout the country, it should be stated that the majority of us are Vitamin D deficient (below normal levels). How did we get this way? Well, our ancestors lived nearly naked in the sun for several million years and used sunlight to produce Vitamin D. However, several thousand years ago, people started migrating north to colder climates and covered themselves with clothes. Today, we have buildings, cars with tinted windows, copious amounts of sun block and the majority of us work indoors, preventing us from basking in the sun. Ever since the industrial revolution, when there was a general reduction in sun exposure, we started seeing an increase in diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Many of us complain of back, neck and shoulder pain. In a Mayo Clinic article published in December of 2003, out of 150 patients with persistent nonspecific musculoskeletal pain that was resistant to standard therapies (for example, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, etc), 93% had deficient levels of Vitamin D and their mean level was 12.08.
The Journal of Internal Medicine in 2008 reported that Vitamin D supplementation had a very significant positive effect on subjects who were overweight, obese and had symptoms of depression; this was a randomized double-blind study. In a study published in the Journal of Circulation in 2008, 1739 patients showed an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular disease in people with Vitamin D level less than 10 and 53% increased risk in those with a level less than 15. Statistically significant outcomes published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007 showed a decrease in blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, body mass index , triglyceride levels and total cholesterol. Even kidney function was significantly improved with Vitamin D levels greater than 37 compared to levels less than 21.
How about the flu and Vitamin D? Vitamin D dramatically stimulates potent antimicrobial proteins which exist in neutrophils, monocytes, natural killer cells and epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract. What this means, in English, is that it stimulates all of our natural killer cells to combat any invading virus, bacteria or fungus. There are some who hypothesize that people have more flu in the winter due to lack of sunlight and Vitamin D.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself, what Vitamin D levels do we need in order to be in optimal health and what we have to do to achieve them?
How much Vitamin D we need daily depends on our skin tone and our level of sun exposure. Sun blocks prevent sun burn but they also block 99% of Vitamin D absorption. What about aging of the skin? What about skin cancer? If our skin burns, we are predisposing ourselves to skin aging and skin cancer. If our skin turns pink, the effect is actually anti-cancer and cancer preventative. In winter, Vitamin D deficient people can benefit from a UVB tanning bed, and perhaps the stigma of vanity would be lessened if the bed had a sticker on it reading “Vitamin D delivery device.” Also, lighter-skinned people absorb more Vitamin D than darker skinned people. Several studies suggest that the increased rate of cancer, heart disease, etc in US African Americans is due to Vitamin D deficiency, as their bodies do not make Vitamin D as readily as someone with lighter skin exposed to sunlight.
So how much Vitamin D do we need? First, we need to go to our primary care doctor in order to determine what our current levels are. According to the FDA, normal is between 30 to 100, but according to the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the optimal level is 75 to 100 ng/ml 25 (OH) Vitamin D. (It should be noted that no toxicity is seen with Vitamin D levels less than 150 ng/ml.)
For every 1000 units, the blood level increases by 10 points, so somebody with a Vitamin D level of 40, in order to reach optimal level of 80 would need 4000 units per day or ( 7x 4000) 28,000 units of Vitamin D once per week. Somebody with a level of 30 would need 5000 units per day to reach level of 80.
What about getting Vitamin D naturally from the sun? At high noon, 15-20 minutes of sun exposure to the head and neck equals 1000 units , the full upper body for 15 minutes equals 4000 units, and the entire body in a bathing suit receives 8000 units in 15 minutes. Sun bathing for brief periods (to avoid burning) is an excellent way to improve Vitamin D levels.
My purpose is just to make you aware of what the cutting edge of health science has learned about how to achieve optimal health. The rest is up to you.
I hope enjoyed this article.
John G. Alevizos, D.O.