Vitamin D and Health

Can Vitamin D Help To Protect Your Health?

By Brandy Siegler

Wellness Specialist

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and it has a lot of sunny benefits, but most Americans aren’t getting these benefits because they aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient.  The recent research on vitamin D has completely changed the way that we view this vitamin.

Until recently, information on vitamin D was fairly limited.  We knew that our bodies make vitamin D from a metabolite of cholesterol whenever we are in the sunlight, so it was thought that we only need vitamin D from external sources during the winter months or if we lived in Northern latitudes.  Health benefits centered around vitamin D’s role in promoting healthy bones and teeth.  And there was concern about toxicity.  The upper limit was considered to be around 1800-2000 IU daily, and if you were in the sun and drank two or more glasses of milk a day, you were told to avoid supplements containing vitamin D.

We are beginning to learn just how valuable this vitamin is for our overall health.  About 10-15 years ago scientists realized that almost every cell in our body has receptors for vitamin D, not just bone and teeth cells. So scientists set out to discover what else vitamin D does. The short answer is “a lot”, and additional health benefits are being discovered as the research unfolds.

For starters, vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system. Some experts think that may explain why winter is cold and flu season.  During the winter we get virtually no direct skin exposure to the sun.  Studies have also shown that adequate vitamin D intake significantly reduces the risk of several types of cancer, especially colon, breast, lung and prostate cancer and that adequate vitamin D intake may make cancer treatment more effective.  There are also a number of studies suggesting that vitamin D is beneficial in preventing auto-immune diseases. For example, one study showed that just 400 IU of vitamin D was sufficient to reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis by 40%.  Another study that followed 30,000 women age 55 to 69 for 11 years found that those who got the most vitamin D from diet and supplementation were the least likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. And in Finland it was reported that children who were given 2,000 IU of vitamin D in the 1960s had an 80% lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Vitamin D can prevent some important problems of aging.  For example, vitamin D has been shown to lower the risk of falling in the elderly by improving balance and muscle strength, a factor that helps prevent debilitating fractures.  It also helps lower the inflammation that contributes to gum disease and tooth loss.

Vitamin D may reduce heart disease risk as well. Studies have shown that vitamin D supplementation reduces the levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation associated with heart disease. In addition, a combination of vitamin D, calcium and magnesium can lower blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.  Recent research supported by the Shaklee Corporation, the leading natural nutrition company in the U.S., showed that the higher the intake of vitamin D from dietary supplements, the higher the amount of vitamin D found in the blood and the greater the levels of HDL cholesterol (or “good cholesterol”).  Future research is needed to determine if vitamin D from dietary supplements can lower risk levels for metabolic syndrome.  Kevin C. Maki, PhD, the study’s Principal Investigator and the Chief Science Officer of Provident Clinical Research in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, said, “Results from population studies suggest that a low serum vitamin D concentration is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular mortality, but this is the first study to evaluate the relationship between vitamin D status and cardiovascular risk factors in a group that includes a large number of vitamin D supplement users.”  He continues, “Additional research is warranted to assess whether increasing vitamin D intake will improve the metabolic cardiovascular risk factor profile.”

How much vitamin D is enough?  Levels of the active metabolite of vitamin D in the blood are correlated with various health outcomes, and studies reveal that most people don’t have adequate vitamin D in their bloodstream – even in the summer. It is being argued that the previous RDAs for vitamin D (200 IU up to age 50, 400 IU from 50 to 70 and 600 IU over age 70) are simply not adequate. Most experts now think that the RDA, which will likely be revised soon, should be increased to a least 1000 IU up to age 50, and some think that the RDA should be as high as 2000 IU.

So what should you do?  The simple answer is to get more vitamin D from sun exposure and your diet. While you still want to avoid prolonged sun exposure without sunscreen, most experts are now recommending 10-15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen every day.  Also try to get at least 1000 IU of vitamin D from foods, such as vitamin D fortified milk, salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and supplementation with vitamin D in the form of D3 or cholecalciferol.

It is also important to have your doctor check your blood levels of vitamin D when you go in for your next physical. We are all unique individuals. What may be perfectly adequate sun exposure and vitamin D intake for someone else may not be adequate for you. Only by having your blood levels tested will you know if you are getting enough of this vital nutrient.

As we bring more light to what we know about the sunshine vitamin, we come closer to finding ways to improve our overall well-being.

To your health!

The Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association makes no medical claims or recommendations.  Check with your doctor about your specific health care needs.  For more information on the Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association contact Chrystal Spayd, president, at 814-6 43-0588 or spaydx3@verizon.net.