Vitamin D – A Physician Separates Truth From Hype

Vitamin D - A Physician Separates Truth From HypeWhen the June 8, 2007 front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail proclaimed the cancer preventing benefits of vitamin D (a.k.a. “the sunshine vitamin” or D3), and the Canadian Cancer Society chirped in with their modest recommendation for everyone to take 1100 IU of vitamin D daily, the natural health community may have felt vindicated. Yet many scientists felt hoodwinked.

This cancer preventive property of vitamin D was no big news to world experts and researchers who have been touting the numerous benefits of the vitamin for well over a decade.  The medical profession and its various antiquated societies are, unfortunately, far behind in applying scientific data to clinical health concerns. It’s a nice gesture on their part to recommend 1100 IU of vitamin D a day to prevent cancer, but it’s far from enough. Current research indicates that the figure for cancer prevention should be closer to 10,000 IU daily.

Vitamin D is really not a vitamin but a steroid hormone precursor that plays a major role in many diseases. It is created under the skin by ultraviolet light and is found in few foods commonly consumed by most Canadians. Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency (sub-optimal levels) plays a role in causing seventeen types of cancer (especially breast, prostate and colon) as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, depression (especially seasonal affective disorder), chronic pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, and periodontal disease.

In my practice, at least half the patients I see for chronic health problems have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D despite consuming vitamin D fortified dairy products or taking a multiple vitamin supplement. Sun-phobia, a condition imposed on the population by sun-paranoid dermatologists, along with sunscreens and spending too much time indoors have all contributed to the vitamin D insufficiency problem. In fact, one of the worst offenders in creating vitamin D deficiency is the use of commercial sun blocks. And studies now indicate that while these may prevent sunburns, they do virtually nothing to prevent skin cancer.

Research indicates that to get 4000 IU of vitamin D, if you totally avoid the sun, you must drink 40 glasses of milk a day or take 10 typical multivitamin pills daily. As mentioned earlier, a more optimal daily dose of vitamin D is 10,000 IU.

The purported toxicity of vitamin D is overstated. According to well-documented research, a person standing in the summer sun for an hour at noontime in a southern latitude in swim trunks, would naturally produce about 10,000 IU of vitamin D through skin exposure. But sun poisoning from vitamin D overdose has never been reported anywhere.

For those who cannot tolerate the sun and prefer to take supplements, Dr. Reinhold Vieth PhD, researcher at the University of Toronto, notes that vitamin D toxicity begins at 40,000 IU daily only after many weeks of use. Taking 10,000 IU daily for months at a time, provided there is no sun exposure, is perfectly safe. Blood levels can be tested periodically to verify this.

BESIDES CANCER, WHY TAKE VITAMIN D?

Vitamin D supplementation is not only effective for cancer prevention (60% of all cancers can be prevented) and treatment, but for a long list of other conditions. Below are a rapidly growing number of health problems that are proven to be either prevented or treated effectively by boosting the blood levels of vitamin D:

Rickets – even conventional medicos know this childhood bone disease is caused by vitamin D deficiency, and was the major reason why milk became fortified with tiny doses of the supplement.

Osteoporosis – even though this is common knowledge, many people who suffer from osteoporosis are low in their D levels and simply need to take more.

Heart disease – hardening of the arteries is caused by calcium deposition. Vitamin D is an anti-calcifying agent when at optimal levels in the bloodstream; both extremely high and low intake levels of vitamin D induce calcification of arteries but calcification from overdose of vitamin D requires many hundreds of thousands of international units and is rare. Vitamin D deficiency is common and calcified arteries are a direct result of deficiency. Also, as is noted below, heart disease is often triggered and perpetuated by inflammation, and vitamin D is anti-inflammatory.

Diabetes – evidence is mounting that vitamin D can improve insulin resistance and favourably affect Type 2 diabetes.

Hypertension – emerging evidence has compared the blood pressure lowering effects of vitamin D to ace (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, a class of blood pressure lowering drugs commonly prescribed by conventional doctors; don’t go off your blood pressure pills yet but consider high dose supplements of vitamin D and get your blood levels checked along with your blood pressure.

The Common Cold and Influenza – ditch that mercury and formaldehyde laden flu shot; vitamin D has strong antibiotic properties and some studies indicate that optimal blood levels will prevent influenza far better than those toxic ‘flu shots. Dr. John Cannell, the director of the Vitamin D Council, suggests high-dose vitamin D (50,000 IU) be consumed for three days at the first sign of a cold or the ‘flu. If you have an infection, you need more vitamin D. That’s a given.

Autism – Research has shown that low maternal vitamin D levels can adversely affect the developing brain and lead to autism, and that vitamin D supplements can improve some of the signs of autistic behaviour. Since most of the medical and conventional treatments for autism are so dismal, supplementing with vitamin D may be well worth a try.

Inflammation – vitamin D is anti-inflammatory; if you have inflammation (arthritis, iritis, thyroiditis, pancreatitis, anything ending in “itis”), you need more vitamin D.

Autoimmune Disease – multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and numerous other diseases where the immune system attacks various organs, involves inflammation that can be arrested by a high dose vitamin D.

Melanoma – this most deadly form of skin cancer is now thought to be caused by a sunlight/vitamin D deficiency; safe sun exposure actually helps prevent melanoma, a counter intuitive finding confusing the heck out of dermatologists.

Obesity – vitamin D levels are significantly lower in overweight individuals; taking a vitamin D supplement certainly beats dieting but check your blood levels first.

The Bottom Line

The only way to ensure vitamin D adequacy is to expose yourself to the sun regularly.  In Canada and other northern latitude countries, this is next to impossible at any time other than the summer. As discussed earlier, drinking milk is not the answer. Although frowned upon by frumpy dermatologists, I recommend people use a sun bed (avoiding sunburn) during the winter months. Either that or make frequent trips to Florida, southern California or the Caribbean.

For people who want nothing to do with sun beds or trips to the deep south, there are oral supplements that will do the trick. One choice would be cod liver oil or halibut liver oil liquid or capsules. The only problem here might be the high vitamin A (each capsule may contain as much as 5000 IU of vitamin A) that comes along with the vitamin D (usually 200 – 400 IU per capsule). If you want to take 2000 IU daily of vitamin D, then fish liver oil capsules might be suitable. If you want to push the dose up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily, you might be getting too much vitamin A.

An alternative to cod or halibut liver oil would be capsules containing only vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). These usually come in dosages of 400 IU or 1000 IU per capsule. Higher potencies per capsule are available by prescription only. Biotics Research makes a vitamin D supplement called Bio-D-Mulsion, a water-soluble form of vitamin D3 in liquid form (1000 IU per drop). This version of vitamin D may be more suitable for people who hate taking pills of any kind or who have problems absorbing fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Bio-D-Mulsion is available from some health care practitioners, pharmacies specializing in natural remedies (ie. Hoopers Pharmacy, Ottway), and the Big Carrot Dispensary. For more information on this product, see http://www.mercola.com /forms/vitamind.htm

If you suffer from any chronic health problem, ask your doctor to check your blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D, the most accurate indicator of vitamin D status.  The optimal blood levels should be between 100 and 250 ng/ml. Levels below 50 are considered insufficient and levels below 25 are definitely in the deficiency category. With continued research, I predict these numbers will all change, so stay tuned.

References

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Leading World Experts/Researchers on Vitamin D

Bess Dawson-Hughes MD, Former President, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Professor of Medicine, Tufts University, Senior Scientist and Director, Bone Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA HNRCA at Tufts University, 711 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111, USA, Ph.: 617-556-3064, Fax: 617-556-3305, Email: bhughes@hnrc.tufts.edu, Google Scholar: B Dawson-Hughes, PubMed: Dawson-Hughes B

Cedric F. Garland DrPH FACE, Professor of Medicine, Moores Cancer Center, Dept. of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093, USA, Ph.: 858-534-0520, Email: cgarland@ucsd.edu, Google Scholar: CF Garland, PubMed: Garland CF

Edward Giovannucci MD ScD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Dept. of Nutrition, Dept. of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, 655 Huntington Ave., Building II Room 319, Boston, MA 02115, USA, Ph.: 617-432-4648, Email: edward.giovannucci@channing.harvard.edu, Google Scholar: E Giovannucci, PubMed: Giovannucci E

William B. Grant PhD, Former Senior Research Scientist, Atmospheric Sciences, SRI International, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Langley Research Center, Elected Fellow, Optical Society of America, Director, Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center, San Francisco, CA 94109-2510, USA, Email: wgrant@sunarc.org, Google Scholar: WB Grant, PubMed: Grant WB

Robert P. Heaney MD FACP FACN, Member, American Dietetic Association, Elected Fellow, American College of Nutrition, Emeritus Board Member, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Osteoporosis Research Center, Creighton University Medical Center, 601 N 30th Street, Suite 4820, Omaha, NE 68131, USA, Ph.: 402-280-4029, Email: rheaney@creighton.edu, Google Scholar: RP Heaney, PubMed: Heaney RP

Michael Holick PhD MD, Director, General Clinical Research Center, Director, Bone Health Care Clinic, Boston University Medical Center, Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine, 715 Albany St. M_1013, Boston, MA 02118, USA, Ph.: 617-638-4545, Fax: 617-638-8882, Email: mfholick@bu.edu, Google Scholar: MF Holick, PubMed: Holick MF

Dr. Holick is the world’s foremost authority on vitamin D. In 2006, Dr. Holick received the 18th Annual Award for Excellence in Clinical Research for his pioneering contributions in the basic science of vitamin D.

Bruce W. Hollis PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Director of Pediatric Nutritional Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Ave. Charleston, SC 29425, USA, Ph.: 843.792.6854, Fax: 843-792-8801, Email: Hollisb@musc.edu, Google Scholar: BW Hollis, PubMed: Hollis BW

Christel Lamberg-Allardt PhD, Dept. of Applied Chemistry and Microbiology, University of Helsinki, PO Box 27, FIN, 00014, Finland, Ph.: 358-9-1-915-8266, Fax: 358-9-1-915-8475, Email: christel.lamberg-allardt@helsinki.fi, Google Scholar: C Lamberg-Allardt, PubMed: Lamberg-Allardt C

Anthony W. Norman PhD, Emeritus, Presidential Chair, and, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Dept. of Biochemistry, University of California Riverside, Room 5456 Boyce Hall, Riverside, CA 92521, USA, Ph.: 909-787-4777, Fax: 909-787-4784, Email: anthony.norman@ucr.edu, Web: http://www.biochemistry.ucr.edu/faculty/norman.html Google Scholar: AW Norman, PubMed: Norman AW

Reinhold Vieth PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Director, Bone and Mineral Laboratory, Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, 600 University Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X5, Ph.: 416.586.5920, Fax: 416.586.8628, Email: rvieth@mtsinai.on.ca, Google Scholar: R Vieth, PubMed: Veith R

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