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Vitamin D: Not Just For The Health Of Your Bones

by Leanne J. Sotir, PhD, RNCP

Vitamin D: Not Just For The Health Of Our BonesDecades ago the medical community only thought vitamin D was involved in the health of our teeth and bones. At one time, vitamin D deficiency was only thought of as the cause of Rickets. Although it does play a major role in the prevention of many bone diseases, new research has focused the shift on vitamin D and its involvement in many other diseases, as well as overall health. Deficiencies of vitamin D are now thought to be involved in different types of cancers, depression, heart disease, and immune system disorders. Discovering the importance of adequate levels of vitamin D can be beneficial in the prevention of many devastating diseases.

WHAT IS VITAMIN D AND HOW IT IS MADE IN THE BODY?
Vitamin D is actually a vitamin and a hormone. It is one of the most important hormones for regulating the growth of all of our cells. Your body can actually make its own vitamin D by absorbing sunlight (UVB rays) through the skin using your body’s cholesterol as its catalyst. The vitamin D is then turned into the hormone Calcitriol (activated form of vitamin D) by a conversion process done through the kidneys and liver.

HOW VITAMIN D AFFECTS GENE EXPRESSION
Genetic research has emerged showing the strong connection between vitamin D and its involvement in gene regulation. Vitamin D receptors can regulate the expression of our genes which can determine if we will develop certain diseases or health conditions. They also play a role in our innate immune response assisting the body in fighting off bacterial pathogens. Vitamin D receptors are found in all of the body’s organs and cells, including immune cells. These receptors are located in the bones, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, brain, spinal cord, reproductive organs, thymus, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland (Warafin, 2008). The Hossein-nezhad, Spira, & Holick (2013) study showed supplementing with vitamin D daily for 2 months will significantly affect expression of genes which have many biological functions of more than 160 pathways that are linked to disease such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and various autoimmune disorders.

NON SKELETEL DISEASES LINKED TO VITAMIN D DEFICIENCIES
Numerous research papers and various epidemiological studies have concluded that low levels of serum vitamin D are associated with different autoimmune conditions and various disease states in the body such as:

  • Various Cancers
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Lupus
  • Depression
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure 

CAUSES OF VITAMIN D DEFICIENCIES 

  • Digestive disorders such as malabsorption, Crohn’s disease, Colitis, and Celiac disease.
  • Poor diet
  • Low or inadequate sun exposure
  • Overuse of sunscreens
  • Low cholesterol levels
  • Obesity
  • Aging adults may not convert vitamin D because of weak digestion, thin skin, or less exposure to the sunshine.
  • People living farthest from the equator
  • Medications such as some statins, diuretics, anti-seizure drugs, and prolonged use of over the counter antacids can lower or interfere with the absorption of vtiamin D

HOW TO MAINTAIN HEALTHY VITAMIN D LEVELS FOR DISEASE PREVENTION
Sunshine may be the best and most inexpensive way to obtain and maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. Many people are avoiding the sun and applying chemically-laden sunscreens that block the UVB rays that are necessary to absorb vitamin D. This is partly due to the false information given by the mainstream medical community trying to scare the public into thinking that the sun is harmful.  Healthy and sensible exposure to the sun such as 10-15 minutes per day between the hours of 8:00 am to 11:00 am will supply you with a healthy dose of sunshine and will avoid sunburn.  According to Suzy Cohen (2011) “If you get 30 minutes of sun daily, you receive about 10,000 IU of vitamin D” (p.277). The best natural food sources are wild fish such as salmon and sardines, grass fed meats, raw sunflower seeds, and egg yolks (this varies depending on the quality of the egg). Along with these natural sources you could also add a daily multivitamin/mineral that contains at least 800 IU of vitamin D3.

HOW MUCH VITAMIN D SHOULD I TAKE AND IN WHAT FORM?
The vitamin D Council currently recommends 5,000 IU daily, for adults, while the Food and Nutrition Board (recommendations by the US government)  currently recommends 600 IU daily and seniors 800 IU daily.  These recommendations for vitamin D intake are vastly different and various organizations recommend different guidelines on how much vitamin D a person may need. Every person requires different amounts of vitamin D depending on their diet, lifestyle and health issues. Most high quality vitamin/mineral supplement have 800-1000 international units of vitamin D in them and are safe for most individuals. Vitamin D is best taken in your multivitamin/mineral supplement because vitamin D works synergistically with vitamin K, A, and other minerals. When choosing a vitamin D supplement, the best source should contain D3 and not the synthetic form of D2.  These two forms of vitamin D are not the same and have different biological actions. Vitamin D3 is closer to the form that your body would create from sunshine exposure. The Heaney, Recker, Grote, Horst, & Armas (2011) study explored the use of vitamin D 3 and D2 on 33 healthy individuals for a 12 week period and concluded that vitamin D3 was approximately 87% more potent in raising and maintaining serum vitamin D levels than was the vitamin D2.

CAN TOO MUCH VITAMIN D BE TOXIC?
Because vitamin D is fat soluble and stores in the body, you may not want to rush right out and take high amounts of this supplement. Vitamin D toxicity (hypervitaminosis D) can cause high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia) in the blood. This can occur if you are taking exceptionally high doses of vitamin D (not recommended). Certain medical conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, liver or kidney diseases, or vitamin K deficiency can also increase your risk of hypercalcemia from ingesting too much vitamin D. Vitamin D toxicity is an extremely rare condition and a person cannot suffer from it by consuming foods containing vitamin D or too much sunshine.  Your body has a built in mechanism to regulate this process.  Some people may be sensitivity to vitamin D and can have symptoms of hypercalcemia such as nausea, headaches, diarrhea, restlessness, and fatigue.

The current research available today leans towards vitamin D and its preventative and protective role in disease rather than a curative one.  It has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects on the body, making it vitally important to maintain adequate levels. If you are getting enough sunshine exposure, consuming foods that contain good quality sources of vitamin D, and taking your multivitamin/mineral with (800-100 IU) you are probably getting sufficient vitamin D.  If you suspect you may be low in this vital nutrient because of a diagnosed disease listed above, or you are taking a prescription medicine that causes depletion, you should have your medical professional check your levels before taking extra.  The best test to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D is called the 25(OH)D or 25-hydoxyvitamin D and is available through your medical professional.

Disclaimer: Always check with your medical professional before taking higher than recommended doses of vitamin D.

REFERENCES:

Cohen, S. (2011). Drug muggers. New York: Rodale, Inc.

The Vitamin D Council. (2013) How do I get the vitamin D my body needs. Retrieved July 28, 2013, from http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/

Heaney, R.P., Recker, R.R., Grote, J., Horst, R.L., & Amas, A.g. (2011). Vitamin d3 is more potent than vitamin d2 in humans. (electronic version) Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96,447-452.

Hossein-nezhad, A., Spira, A., & Holick, M.F. (2013). Influence of vitamin d status and vitamin d3 supplementation on genome wide expression of white blood cells: A randomized double-blind clinical trial. Plos One, 8 (3) 58725.

Lieberman, S. (2007). The real vitamin and mineral book.  Penguin Group, Inc.