Vitamin D: The Sunshine Wonder Drug
(originally published Dec. 7, 2008 – Suite101.com)
Vitamin D is unique in the vitamin world in that it influences the entire body, from the bones to the brain. It’s also unique in that it’s the only vitamin that humans make on their own – from exposure to sunlight, no less.
Also unlike other vitamins, according to the August 2000 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone precursor, which explains its far-reaching impact on the body.
TYPES OF VITAMIN D
There are two types of vitamin D supplements: vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol or 25-hydroxyvitamin D3) and synthetic D2 (ergocalciferol), which is found in fortified foods and some vitamin supplements.
Vitamin D3, found in eggs, organ meats, animal fat, cod liver oil, and fish, is the equivalent to the vitamin D formed in your skin from the sun’s UV-B rays. Studies show conclusively that this form of the vitamin is best absorbed and used by the body.
Vitamin D2 is largely a synthetic vitamin. It has been shown to be toxic at higher dosages and is less biologically active than its natural counterpart. Unfortunately, it’s also the version used in most vitamin prescriptions. And according to the October 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, should no longer be regarded as a nutrient appropriate for supplementation or fortification of foods.”
CHRONIC ILLNESS BENEFITS
As noted earlier, an incredible array of studies are continuously finding new health benefits associated with vitamin D, particularly D3. The following is a brief list of recent medical journal findings in relation to various chronic health disorders and diseases:
- Weak bones – Amer. J. Clincal Nutrition 2004
- Heart Disease – British Journal of Nutrition October 2005
- Multiple Sclerosis – Neurology January 2004
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – Arthritis & Rheumatism January, 2004
- Breast Cancer – Preventative Medicine November 1990
- Colorectal Cancer – Lancet 1985
- Prostate Cancer – Internat. J. of Epidemiology 1980
- Diabetes (Type 1) – Lancet 2001
- Diabetes (Type 2) – Diabetes Care 2006
- Inflammatory Bowl Disease – Journal of Nutrition 2000
- Obesity – FASEB Journal 2001
- Osteoporosis (prevention) – Lancet January 2006
- Osteoporosis (treatment) – Endocrinol. Metab. Clin. North Am. 1998 Jun
- Depression & Cognitive Performance – Amer. J. of Geriatric Psychiatry December 2006
- Tuberculosis – Amer. J. Clinical Nutrition November 2007
- Schizophrenia – Schizophrenia Research April 2004
For further information on the benefits of vitamin D, The National Institutes of Health (NIS) has a fact sheet with an extensive bibliography.
SUPPLEMENTATION & DOSAGE
New research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (June 2008) recommends a daily dose of 3800 IU for those with normal vitamin D3 blood levels and 5000 IU for those with deficiencies.
As is often the norm when natural cures and medicinal alternatives are found, the mainstream medical establishment is slow to react to new research. The current FDA recommended daily value (DV) for vitamin D is just 400 IU for adults and children age 5 and older, which is considered by many experts to be far below the minimum needed for health maintenance.
While there is some risk of toxicity at extreme dosages, most such data is associated with vitamin D2. Thankfully, there is no risk of toxicity when the vitamin is produced naturally from sun exposure. The body’s own hormone regulatory system knows when it’s had enough – which is a good thing since in just a half hour of sun bathing the average person could generate up to 20,000 IU of vitamin D.
Before beginning supplementation, it’s recommended that you have your vitamin D levels tested. The best method is known as the 25(OH)D test (also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D test). The optimal value you’re shooting for is 50-55 ng/ml (115-128 nmol/l).
Otherwise, get outside and soak up some rays!
Updated! 3/16/2010 – “Update to Vitamin D Recommendations“