Are you getting enough “Vitamin D”?

by Dr. Doug Lukinuk, DC

“Vitamin D” is in quotes here and above because it is not a vitamin at all — in its active form it is the most powerful steroid hormone in our bodies. Though it is surprisingly crucial to both our developmental and ongoing health and wellbeing (as the many clinical studies provided below demonstrate), it is present in it’s so-called “active form” in concentrations of only 20 to 50 picograms per liter of human blood (a “picogram” is a trillionth of a gram!) So just a very tiny bit of this stuff goes a long way!

When human skin is exposed to sufficiently powerful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, a form of cholesterol contained in our skin (“7-dehydrocholesterol”) is converted into the precursor of Vitamin D, called “cholecalciferol”. This is then converted by our liver into the inactive bulk storage form of vitamin D that blood tests measure (“25-hydroxyvitamin D”). Although Vitamin D is present in limited amounts in cod liver oil and some fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and tuna), it is essentially unavailable in metabolically useful quantities from dietary sources.

As we age, our skin gradually loses its youthful cholesterol and its ability to synthesize Vitamin D declines over time. Although it has not been widely studied, some reports indicate that by the age of 50, Vitamin D production has fallen to approximately 50% of its original rate, and by the age of 65 production will have fallen to just 25% of its original capability. And independent of age, the skin’s melanin pigmentation — either from natural genetic racial coloration or tanning adaptation — acts to absorb much of the sun’s visible and ultraviolet radiation. This skin darkening has the beneficial effect of protecting our skin from UV radiation damage, but at the expense of further reducing the skin’s rate and capacity for Vitamin D production. (Melanin is 99.9% efficient in absorbing the energy from ultraviolet light, converting it into harmless heat energy.)

“Vitamin D” was misnamed when it was first discovered hundreds of years ago, before we knew where it came from or how it was made. By definition, it is not a “vitamin” because vitamins are not produced endogenously (internally), they must be obtained exogenously (externally) from dietary food sources.

My own experience with Vitamin D

A few years ago, I had my own levels of Vitamin D tested and I was severely deficient. My level of 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D was just 62 – and it should be greater than 150. While I was beyond the range where I was at risk for Rickets, I was shocked to learn that my levels were far below healthier ranges to improve my resistance to the numerous cancers now associated with Vitamin D deficiency.

Through that fall and winter, I supplemented with 5-10,000 IU of Vitamin D3 each day, and re-tested my levels six months later. I had reached a level of 152 nmol/L. I’ve now reduced my daily regimen to a maintenance dose of 2,000 IU per day in the summer, and 3-4,000 IU per day in the winter.  You can get Vit. D tested at your medical doctor’s office, although you have to pay out of pocket for this test and they may just tell you it is “normal” medically without explaining optimal levels and how to sustain them.

Realistically, we were designed to receive gradual sun exposure the entire day, not only through an intense 30 minutes of tanning. Sunscreens and cloudy days don’t help either.

Therefore, while I would love for us to get all of our nutrients through food, this is one nutrient that I know first-hand can’t be attained through a healthy diet, multivitamin, or tanning alone.

It seems likely that part of the trouble “Vitamin D” has had with capturing the attention it deserves is due to the fact that, simply by being misnamed a “vitamin”, it has been lumped in with all of the other vitamins and nutrients, and thus assumed to be available in sufficient quantity through our diet.

“Vitamin D” isn’t even a nutrient! It comes from the sun, not from nutrition. Vitamin D Science has another problem: Vitamin D is very inexpensive and cannot be patented.

Large and long, many-year double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials with many participants can easily cost millions of dollars. But since Vitamin D is technically free (just go stand in the sun) or super-inexpensive (about 4 cents per day as a dietary supplement), no commercial pharmaceutical company wants to even think about it. Unlike synthetic chemicals to lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, lower high blood pressure or improve sexual performance, no large pharmaceutical company can make money selling vitamin D. And as the studies below demonstrate over and over, maintaining adequate levels of Vitamin D throughout a lifetime is both simple and inexpensive. Prospective study after study shows that Vitamin D is apparently highly effective in preventing many of the health problems that big pharmaceutical firms have invested millions of dollars in developing expensive drugs to cure. This puts such companies in the admittedly awkward position of not being big fans of health.

Vitamin D inexpensively promotes health. So only University, and some hospital affiliated researchers, with comparatively limited budgets, have any interest in exploring the health benefits of Vitamin D. And even when they, again and again, demonstrate surprising benefits from maintaining higher levels of vitamin D … who’s going to market and sell that information? Once again, there’s no money in it. So, once again, although all of these professionally prepared reports and studies are freely available for access, download, and printing on the Internet, the general public never knows about is since there’s no one running expensive prime-time commercials to sell it.

Couple riding bikes

As you read the studies provided below, I predict that you are going to be amazed and surprised and perhaps finally skeptical. You’re going to wonder “if this is all true, if this could all be true, why doesn’t the public know about it?” We see expensive commercials every night during prime time for expensive and patented pharmaceuticals that allow older men to urinate more easily and less often, but we never see any similar advertisements mentioning that study after study has shown that simply (and inexpensively) maintaining sufficient levels of Vitamin D can work to prevent rickets (that’s well known) but also may help prevent 17 types of cancer including pancreatic, colon/rectal, stomach, prostate, lung, breast, bladder, uterine, espousal, kidney, ovarian, multiple myeloma, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia, lower blood pressure, improve immune system function (prevents colds and flu), autoimmune function, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, autism, allergies, preeclampsia, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis (also well known) depression, muscle and bone weakness and generalized pain.

Looking at that long list of problems above, you may wonder how something, anything, could possibly “cure” all of those very different disease conditions. But that’s thinking about Vitamin D backwards. Vitamin D doesn’t “cure” anything. NONE of those things are supposed to go wrong in the first place. So Vitamin D simply allows our bodies to work the way they were designed to. . . because our bodies were designed to have much more Vitamin D circulating through them than most indoor-living Westerners do today.

The human race evolved, developed and emerged in sub-Saharan equatorial East Africa where, year round without seasons, we received the sunlight we needed every day for our skin to manufacture all of the Vitamin D hormone we required from our skin’s natural cholesterol. When we migrated away from the equator, natural selection quickly eliminated most of the melanin pigmentation from our skin in an attempt to compensate for the much weaker levels of UV radiation available for making Vitamin D. But then we went indoors and have been inadvertently starving our bodies of Vitamin D ever since.

Vitamin D –- are you getting enough?

The current recommended daily intake for Vitamin D runs from 200-600 IU’s per day, depending on your age. In light of recent research, and with most people testing severely deficient in blood tests today, this level of supplementation seems to be inadequate.

Vitamin D concentration in the body is correlated with immune function (i.e. fighting off the flu and preventing cancer), and contributes in multiple ways to the optimal function of the human body because virtually every cell has a receptor for Vitamin D. This includes the cells of the pancreas which is where vitamin D has its impact on blood sugar.

Vitamin D2 vs. Vitamin D3

If you are like most North Americans, the form of Vitamin D you are most likely lacking, and with which you need to supplement is Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – not Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 is synthesized in the skin from cholesterol (if you are on cholesterol lowering meds. Then you likely are very deficient in vitamin D) in response to absorbing UVB rays. It gets converted in the liver, then is transported to the kidneys, and goes to the heart of every cell, the nucleus, and influences its physiology to take the healthy pathways by dictating genetic expression. Most of us are lacking several thousand IU’s of Vitamin D3 per day because we spend our days indoors – and even in the summer, we move from an air-conditioned house, to an air-conditioned car, to an air-conditioned office building, to an air-conditioned bedroom for the night … Then we repeat the cycle the next day.

Blood Serum Levels 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D

The level of Vitamin D circulating in our system is directly proportionate to the amount of skin exposed to sunlight. According to Dr. Mayer Eistenstein, a medical doctor and lawyer from www.homefirst.com, and Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician from the world’s #1 natural health website www.mercola.com, to have acceptable levels of 150-200nmol/L we need 10-15 minutes of mid-day sun with 40% body exposure, and for most of us this is not possible.

Vitamin D Supplementation

Traditionally, people have been taught to supplement with 1000-2000 IU of Vitamin D per day, to maintain levels above 50 nmol/L to prevent Rickets. The chart below, provided by www.grassrootshealth.org, shows that levels should be greater than 150 nmol/L to lessen the likelihood of diseases related to Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D testing often reveals that most people more accurately need to supplement with 4,000 ius .Please note, the reference numbers listed above use imperial units of measure, not metric units which are otherwise referenced in this article. Canadian (metric) reference ranges are listed in nmol/L. Please note for imperial vs. metric reference ranges that 1 ng/mL (U.S./imperial) = 2.5 nmol/L (CAN/metric)

According to www.designsforhealth.com, Metametrix Labs, www.vitamindcouncil.org, and emerging research in this field, the following concentrations of Vitamin D3 relate to your risk of various illnesses:

nmol/L
< 50       Deficiency, high risk of various conditions 
50-80     Insufficiency, mild risk of various conditions 
80-225   Sufficiency, possibly enough in certain individuals 
150-225 Most optimal, preferred range, normal in sunny countries. 
This range reduces severity of various conditions and possibly necessary for optimal health in certain individuals 
> 250     Possibly unsafe levels 
> 375     Toxic levels, impossible to achieve with sun alone

The above reference ranges are not based on guidelines set by governing bodies, but on clinical research in the natural health field. “Acceptable” ranges advocated by governing bodies may not meet the same standards as those endorsed by today’s leaders in natural health care.

Vitamin D is the one stand-alone vitamin I recommend for everyone.

I currently take 2-4000 IUs Pure vitamin D drops in my morning shake depending on the time of year (2000 in summer and 4,000 in winter).  There are over 700 doses in each bottle of vit. D from Douglas labs.  At $32.00/bottle this means it costs 4 cents per drop and would last one person 5-7 months using the above recommendations.  If you buy a typical vit. D gel cap bottle from a store it costs on average $19.00 for 90 capsules…that equates to a whopping 30 cents per dose so you would have to buy 8 bottles to equal one bottle of Douglas labs vit. D!  You also would have to swallow 2-4 of these capsules instead of 2-4 drops in your favorite beverage or directly on your tongue because they are tasteless and odourless.  Always get your food and supplements from a trusted local source.  Vitamins have a shelf life so you do not want something that has been sitting on a shelf for months on end as they degrade in quality and the supplement industry as a whole is very poorly regulated.  That is why we order directly from the lab to insure high quality and fresh products.  

The Chiropractic Perspective
More important than getting the right amount of nutrients for optimal function is your body’s ability to assimilate them. The process, guided by the central nerve system, is the most overlooked element in most nutritional supplementation programs. Chiropractic adjustments enhance nerve supply (potentially) to every organ of your body. Therefore, be sure to take good care of your spine and nerve system through regular chiropractic care, so that you don’t just consume the nutrients you need, but that your body actually uses them.

Dr. Doug’s  current optimal vit. d recommendations:

0-1 y/o under 400 so no supplementation because getting from milk etc.

1-3y/o 1000 i.u’s (one drop of Pure vit. D)

4-8y/o  2000  i.u’s (two drops of Pure vit. D)

9-16y/o  3000  i.u’s ( 3 drops of Pure vit. D)

16-100 y/o    2000-4000 until tested then adjust based on annual testing to optimize usually (2-4 drops)

Note:  these are for otherwise healthy individuals to maintain vitamin D levels.