Dr. Lell here and today I want to talk about vitamin D (hereafter plainly referred to as D). We’ll go over what you probably know, what you might not know, how you’re not getting the D you need. Especially if you live here in Portland. And why you should consider vitamin D supplementation this winter. On a side note, if you think vitamins don’t work, check out this other blog post.
Now we all know D is the bone vitamin. The sunshine vitamin. It helps your body absorb calcium and too little D can lead to things like osteoporosis and rickets. But we’re learning that the D – when maintained at higher levels in the blood – also works as an immune booster, an anti-inflammatory, and a neuro-hormone. D receptors are found on a lot of different cells in our bodies leading researchers to ask “why?” In investigating their use, they discovered these new functions. I took the time to go over the latest research and I want to highlight some of the benefits that I found.
Vitamin D prevents…
- Diabetes. Researchers found that early exposure to higher levels of vitamin D helped to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes in children. In adults, an observational study of pre-diabetics showed that second to being black, having low levels of vitamin D was the largest predictor for the development of Type 2 Diabetes.
- Heart Disease. People with adequate levels of vitamin D in their blood were 162% less likely to suffer a major cardiac event such.
- Falling. Anyone with older family members knows that falling is an issue. And a broken hip in a senior citizen is practically a death warrant. Vitamin D reduced the chance of falling in older people by 61-72%
- Alzheimers. Certainly this is a multifactorial problem but observational studies showed that those who develop this disease have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood.
- Depression. Serotonin, the happy hormone, requires vitamin D. This is why Seasonal Depression occurs when the days get shorter and colder.
- Pain. Not only does it work as a body-wide anti-inflammatory, but a functional lack of vitamin D can cause muscle pain.
- Cancer. Different blood levels of D protects from different cancers, but an amount between 53-61 ng/ml help to prevent 50-67% of breast cancers.
That’s the good news about D. Here’s the bad news – you’re probably not getting enough D to get those benefits. The cards are stacked against us by region, weather, and diet.
Those living above the 37th parallel are statistically less likely to have sufficient amounts of vitamin D in their blood. This is due to the Earth’s tilt and how the sun hits us.
Many people learned that 15 minutes of sunshine will get you all the vitamin D you need, the daily recommended value of 600 IU. However, the RDA represents the bare minimum value needed to prevent bone disease. Those 15 minutes a day won’t get your levels anywhere near what you need to experience the other benefits. On top of that, the U.V. rays needed to produce vitamin D in the skin don’t penetrate clouds (luckily we don’t have many of those in Portland). The graphs below show how likely you are to be producing vitamin D from your routine sun exposure. The warmer the color, the more likely you’re producing your own D from the sun.
I picked up a random person off the street and tested their blood, they’d likely have about 12-20 units, which is considered insufficient but it’s enough to keep you from getting rickets. To maintain this insufficient amount, you would need about 1,000 International Units a day. The typical mult has about 400. We’ve already established that if you’re living in a certain region during a winter month, you’re likely not getting enough from the sun. This leaves the main source from your diet. But the vitamin D found in animals and plants, D2, is not as potent or as effective the D we make from sunshine, D3.
Filling The Gap
So how do you fill the gaps with the D you need? Supplementation is, in my opinion, the best option (unless there’s a medical reason that a person shouldn’t take vitamin D). Now I mentioned before that this is a fat soluble vitamin – you can accumulate too much in your blood blood but it would take a whole lot of D to do this. If you have reservations about supplementation, consult a healthcare professional and maybe get your levels checked. There are many walk-in labs here in Portland that can make this kind of labwork affordable for the under-insured.