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.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest a topic – drop a line. Like me on Facebook for regular health tips and updates. Until next time, eat well and move often.
Questions about this post?
Dr. Lell would be happy to answer questions or provide more information discussed in this blog post. Contact him through our Contact Page.