Over the past decade we've come to understand that vitamin D is vital for normal cell biochemistry. When levels of vitamin D are low we are at high risk for many diseases that include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, many cancers, depression, muscle and joint pains, Alzheimer's disease, and many additional health disorders.
There is no better way to get vitamin D than from sunshine, but if we cannot get into the sun, we must supplement. We must be exposed to sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm because that is the only time when UVB light is present in sunlight; we cannot make vitamin D in our skin unless UVB light is present.
There is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency because we spend most of our time indoors. UVB rays do not go through glass, fog, smog, clouds or rain and do not go through our clothing or sunscreen.
Many dermatologists have created a problem by advising their patients to stay out of the sun and to use plenty of sunscreen in order to protect against skin cancers and premature skin aging. What is really important is to not get sun burned because that is what leads to skin cancers and wrinkles.
So, remember that there's no more powerful medicine than living a healthy lifestyle and getting in the sun every day is part of a healthy lifestyle!
Vitamin D Deficiency
There is a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency because we don't get the UVB rays from sunlight that are needed to make it ourselves. This leads to not only an increased risk of osteoporosis but also of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, several cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D replacement is necessary for most people. The immune effects of vitamin D are also reviewed.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
There is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency because we don't get enough sun from 10-2:00. UVB rays are not present at other times & they don't go through glass, clothing, sun block, or clouds. We need 10-30 minutes on a large surface area depending on our skin pigmentation and age. There is also a pandemic of osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, depression, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and immune suppression that is the result.
Sunshine is Superior to Vitamin D Supplements
A study out of the University of Edinburgh and presented at the International Investigative Dermatological Conference in May of 2013 reported that sunlight on skin lowers blood pressure by increasing the release of nitric oxide. They exposed 24 people to a tanning lamp for two 20 minute sessions where in one group the UV light was blocked and in the other it was not. Results showed that only in those people getting the UV light was there a drop in blood pressure.
Other reported benefits of sunlight include treating seasonal affective disorder, lowering melatonin production, protection vs melanoma, healing psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, and helping in scleroderma and multiple sclerosis. Keep in mind that burns increase the risk for squamous and basal cell skin cancers. Just the right dose is what we need!
Vitamin D3 Protects Against Viruses, Cancer, and Autoimmunity
A report in the journal, Journal of Leukocyte Biology, showed that levels of vitamin D3 below 20 ng/ml led to a higher incidence of viral infections, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. This, of course, suggests that supplementing with vitamin D3 could help prevent or treat these conditions.
Low levels of vitamin D3 lead to higher production of antibodies (the Th 2 immune system), but lower levels of cell mediated immunity (the Th 1 immune system) that we need to fight viral infections, certain cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
With the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, it is especially important that we replace people who are ill, especially in our hospitals, with vitamin D3 supplementation. Levels of vitamin D3 below 20 ng/ml leads to a higher risk of fractures, heart attacks, cancer, and all cause mortality, especially in the elderly.
The Importance of Vitamin D in Serious Illness
A study published in Pediatrics from the University of Ottawa documented that 75% of children in ICU with serious illnesses had low vitamin D levels and were noted to be sicker, requiring more life support services, and longer times in the ICU. Considering that there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency caused by lack of exposure to sunlight, it is not particularly surprising that kids who suffer from serious health issues get even less sunlight than health kids.
Physicians have little nutritional training and tend to ignore the critical importance of good nutrition in people who have increased nutritional needs far beyond the minimum RDA requirements, such as those in the hospital with serious challenges to produce energy and to detoxify. We need more physician nutrition specialists, especially for people in ICUs.
Low levels of vitamin D predispose us to more colds, asthma, emphysema, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and osteoporosis. We should be measuring vitamin D levels in everyone, both in the hospital and as a general screen for the public.
Vitamin D3 Helps Clear Amyloid in Alzheimer's Disease
Vitamin D3 and curcumin stimulate macrophages to clear the beta amyloid from the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease according to an article published in the March issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Low levels of vitamin D3 are associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers studied macrophages isolated from patients with Alzheimer's disease and healthy controls. They incubated these cells overnight with amyloid beta, some in the presence of vitamin D3 and/or curcumin. They discovered that vitamin D3 activated a specific chloride channel that is needed to clear amyloid beta. Vitamin D3 was a powerful stimulant and curcumin was weak, but had activity.
Information from the NHANES 111 report showed that vitamin D3 deficiency is associated with an increase risk for cognitive impairment in older Americans.
Vitamin D with Calcium Reduces Mortality in Elderly
A study of 70,000 mostly women over the age of 70 that was published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism in June of 2012 suggests that vitamin D3 when taken with calcium can reduce the mortality rate in seniors by 9%. Vitamin D3 alone did not confer this advantage. We also know that calcium alone can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke because high dose calcium in the presence of low vitamin D3 leads to calcifications in the soft tissues such as artery walls. High dose vitamin D3 with low calcium leads to worsening osteoporosis as well as the uptake of toxic metals in bone.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need to Prevent Osteoporosis?
Vitamin D is essential to keep our bones from developing osteoporosis, but how much do we need? Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicineshow that we need more than 800 IU per day to lower the risk of developing osteoporosis. A study published in the NEJM in June of 2012 showed that there were 30% fewer hip fractures and 14% of all fractures in people in the highest quartile of vitamin D level than the lowest.
While the Institute of Medicine and the US Preventive Services Task Force do not recommend vitamin D for prevention of osteoporosis, commonsense tells us that far more fractures occur in people with low vitamin D levels and that toxicity with up to 4000 IU has not been documented, it makes sense to supplement with at least 800 IU per day. When it is safe and the cost of treatment is pennies a day and the cost of fixing a hip fracture is about $37,000, it doesn't take much brain power to figure that we should be measuring vitamin D3 levels and treating when they are low!