What’s the deal with Vitamin D?

All of the attention being given to Vitamin D lately can be a little confusing, and has lead to a lot of different questions.

  • Why do I need Vitamin D?
  • Do I need to take Vitamin D?
  • How much is enough?
  • Don’t I get enough D from sunlight?
  • What are the risks of taking too much or too little?

Let’s try to get some clarity on the subject and understand Vitamin D and its role in your body a little bit better.  After researching many articles and professional opinions on the subject, here is what I have learned.  Please remember that I am not a medical doctor.  This is a commentary and should not be a substitute for seeing your doctor or for following orders prescribed by your physician.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat soluble hormone precursor that is actually a steroid vitamin.  Fat soluble basically means that if you ingest more Vitamin D than your body needs, then the excess is stored in your fat tissue.  Vitamins like C and the B vitamins are all water soluble.  Excess amounts of these go into the body’s water and are flushed out through the urine.  If you’ve taken mega dose vitamins before you, may have noticed this.  Those pricey multi-vites could be leaving you with very expensive urine!

Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, and enhances the body’s ability to repair itself.  It even has significant anti-cancer properties.  Sufficient Vitamin D over 4 years was actually found to decreased breast cancer risk by 50%!

One meta analysis of several different studies determined that calcium supplementation alone did NOT decrease a subject’s risk of bone fracture.  It was only once Vitamin D was added to the calcium did the risk of fracture actually decrease.

The latest research shows that getting enough Vitamin D may decrease one’s risk of diseases such as colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, falls, and some autoimmune diseases.

What’s wrong with being deficient in Vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a wide variety of physical and cognitive ailments.  Here are a few examples:

  • May play a role in insulin resistance (precursor to diabetes)
  • A study is currently being conducted, looking into the use of Vitamin D as a treatment therapy for asthma.  As of now, I am unaware of any published results.
  • May allow for increased cholesterol uptake into inflammatory cells, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
  • Leads to a increased risk of all causes of death
  • Can lead to weight gain and decreased growth

Too much of a good thing?

Yes, too much isn’t good for you either, so don’t go running out and buying the highest dosage your can find at your local vitamin retailer.   Some studies suggest that too much Vitamin D could potentially increase one’s risk of pancreatic cancer.

Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

This is a good question, and a difficult one to answer.  There is a HUGE variance from person to person in one’s ability to absorb vitamin D.  So, two people who receive the same amount of Vitamin D, may actually have very different amounts in their bodies.

We do get some D from the sun, but we aren’t in the sun as much as we used to be.   Remember, sunblock blocks Vitamin D absorption too.  So even if you are outside, if you’re wearing sunblock to protect yourself from skin cancer and sunburn, you won’t be absorbing Vitamin D from the sun.

The best way to find out for yourself is to ask your doctor to run a 25 Hydroxy test for Vitamin D.  Always check first to determine the costs of the test, or if it is covered by your insurance.  The recommended range is between 30-50 ng/dl.  If you can, try to do this test is winter or whenever your sun exposure is at its lowest.

What to look for in a supplement

For most people 800-1,000 IU per day (from supplements and/or fortified foods) is sufficient to bring them into a “normal” range.  Those over age 50 may need closer to 1,200 IU.  Many sources recommend much more than this, but I found that the majority of those recommending a higher dosage, were also conveniently selling their own supplements.  Again, discuss this with your doctor.  They may have something else in mind, based on your own personal history.

Please also remember that supplements are not regulated.  So be careful.  Buy from a reputable company and look for a certificate of authenticity.

It is worth mentioning that there are two types of Vitamin D supplements out there: D2 and D3.  D2 comes from non-animal sources and is “vegan friendly”.  However, it is metabolized more quickly and has to be taken 2 times per day, in most cases.  D3 on the other hand is not vegan, but it is the more bioavailable (easier for the body to absorb) of the two and stays in the body longer, so you only have to take it once a day.

So there you have it.  Vitamin D 101.  I hope it’s helpful and answers some questions for you.  Again, your physician is the best source for info on your own individual supplementation needs, but you can at least go in a little more prepared now.  🙂