In my earlier posting on Vitamin D, I talked about its role in boosting our immune systems, especially in the winter time, in regard to influenza, colds and other infections.
However, in recent months, information on Vitamin D has been flooding the news media. Insufficient Vitamin D levels are linked to diseases as diverse as osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. Simply stated, insufficient Vitamin D weakens the immune system.
Vitamin D is an unusual vitamin in that we do not get it from food (except as added by the food industry), but rather from direct sunlight onto our skin. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people had no trouble getting significant amounts of sunshine and therefore Vitamin D. Nowadays, with people working more indoors, and dermatologists recognizing the connection between excessive sun exposure and skin cancer, people are wearing sunblock every time they step out the front door. Sunblock is now even put into cosmetics that women use routinely.
A recent article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition speaks to the subject of dietary Vitamin D requirements during pregnancy and lactation. It appears the current governmental recommendations of 200-400 International Units (IU’s) per day are woefully inadequate; at least 1000 IU’s per day are required by a woman during her pregnancy to assure optimal nutrition for both her and her fetus. Some specialists are suggesting even higher doses are required during pregnancy.
With regard to Vitamin D and cancer, Professor Michael Hollick from Tuft’s University is quoted in a recent interview as saying that in Europe an estimated 25% of women who die of breast cancer might not have died of their breast cancer if they would have maintained adequate Vitamin D levels throughout their life and had some sun exposure. Dr. Hollick also linked inadequate Vitamin D to a higher risk of getting prostate cancer and colon cancer. This is congruent with the recent study published and widely circulated on international television that Vitamin D deficiency is a contributor to pancreatic cancer.
In this same interview, Dr. Hollick also stated that there was some evidence that if young children are fortified with Vitamin D from the age of one year and on, it can reduce by 80% their risk of getting Type I Diabetes. Dr. Hollick has also found high blood pressure can be responsive to Vitamin D.
In the same interview, Professor Rebecca Mason noted that Vitamin D markedly increases cell survival and reduces the DNA damage in surviving cells. She also stated that her research shows cells treated with Vitamin D did much better after being exposed to ultraviolet light and that Vitamin D helps the body to kill cancer cells.
In the same interview, Professor Terry Diamond pointed out that if you correct the Vitamin D deficiency in a population at higher risk for osteoporosis, you can reduce the risk of hip fractures by 25-40%.
I attended a recent conference where Dr. Hollick spoke about how many patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia are sent to him. They almost always are deficient in Vitamin D. With Vitamin D replenishment the aches and pains, especially in the neck and shoulders, often disappear. Dr. Hollick points out that these patients have osteomalacia rather than fibromyalgia and Vitamin D corrects the osteomalacia. [What is osteomalacia?] I have observed that Vitamin D replacement has indeed had this same effect on many of my own patients.
The question about adequacy of Vitamin D is compounded by the government’s current recommendations of normalcy. Most laboratories are still reporting a normal blood level of Vitamin D as greater than 20 ng/mL. In point of fact, Dr. Hollick’s research indicates that a minimum level is approximately 30 ng/mL.
In many holistic practices of medicine, including mine, when treating people with diseases which have a Vitamin D insufficiency connection, we will endeavor to get the Vitamin D level over 50 ng/mL. Please note that safe levels go up to 100 ng/mL.
Of note, many physicians are ordering the wrong Vitamin D test. The correct Vitamin D test to order is 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D and not 25 Di-Hydroxy Vitamin D.
Because of the newly recognized critical importance of this vitamin, I now routinely check all new patients and all current patients at their annual physical, for a Vitamin D level, just as I would check their cholesterol and their blood sugar.
So far in my practice, approximately 90% of all new patients are insufficient or deficient in Vitamin D.
If you are my patient and have health risks in any of the medical areas I have mentioned above, please ask me to check your Vitamin D level. If you are not my patient, please ask your primary care physician to appropriately check your levels and prescribe therapy as needed to correct any insufficiency or deficiency.