SFPMG Health News

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Every few weeks or so we glance over yet another headline in the newspaper that describes how vitamin D plays an important role in human health. Scientists knew for a long time that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones. In recent years, however, studies after studies are being published showing that adequate levels of vitamin D dramatically reduces the risk of a variety of cancers and positively affects the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, autoimmune disorders and type 1 diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, back pain and even autism, and the list is likely to go on. 

Scientists are now researching other diseases and how vitamin D is connected. That search is spurned by a recent review of vitamin D studies that concludes that all time mortality is lowered with adequate vitamin D levels. In other words, if we have healthy levels of vitamin D in the body, we are less likely to die from a disease, and thus live longer.
What is vitamin D? It is, contrary to what we used to know, not a simple vitamin, but a hormone: a molecule that binds to receptors in cells and regulates cell activity and gene expression. The process of producing vitamin D starts with cholesterol in the body. On the biochemical pathway to the active form of Vitamin D, sunlight on the skin is needed. 
A reason why most people are deficient in Vitamin D is because our modern lifestyle allows for little sun exposure. We wear clothes, sit inside offices all day and slap on sunscreen whenever we are outside, because our doctors warn us (rightly so) from skin cancer. Studies show that people in Arizona and Florida, for example, are just as deficient in Vitamin D levels than their fellows in the cloudier north. 
We can take Vitamin D as a supplement to counteract our lack of exposure to sunshine. The current recommended daily intake however of 400 international units (IU) is based on outdated research that is decades old. Most researchers at the forefront in Vitamin D study recommend a daily intake of 4000 IU for adults and 1000 to 2000 IU’s for children and adolescents to maintain healthy and safe levels of vitamin D. 
We are at the beginning of understanding Vitamin D. Fortunately, there is an explosion in research on that topic. In the years to come, once there are large- scale studies done on the real impact of Vitamin D on health, national public health recommendations will follow. Until then, the research that we have today strongly supports that we should be increasing our intake, and we can do that so safely.
Ideally, you have your vitamin D blood levels checked. Go see your doctor and ask for the 25 hydroxyvitamin D3 test. If you are below 50 nanograms per milliliter, you should up your daily dose of Vitamin D. Do not take more than 4000 IU a day without a doctor’s supervision. 
The nicest way to get your vitamin D? Go and stick your head and body out into the sun – the body rapidly produces large amounts of vitamin D. Half an hour of exposure of your body to the sun gets you a healthy load of about 20,000 units, free of charge – and it feels good, too! 
Talk to us if you have more questions about Vitamin D, the sunshine Vitamin.
Hollis Bruce W. et al. Use of Vitamin D in Clinical Practice. Altern Med Rev 2008; 13:6-13
Autier P, Gandini S. Vitamin D supplementation and total mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med 2007;167:1730-1737 
Lips, P. Vitamin D physiology. Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2006 Sep; 92:4-8
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