Gary's new website

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What are the health risks of low vitamin D and how much should I take as a supplement?

The high rate of natural production of vitamin D in the skin is the single most important fact every person should know about vitamin D because it has such profound implications for health and vitality. In the last year that I have been getting people to have their vitamin D levels tested, not one has returned with an optimum result, including myself. this is an appalling result that has serious implications for the health of New Zealanders.

Photo: A ridiculous requirement: Polynesian kids hiding from the sun on a sunless Autumn day in Wellington City!

What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone precursor that has recently been found to play a role in a wide variety of diseases. Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing:
  • Seventeen varieties of cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle wasting
  • Birth defects
  • Periodontal disease
The list seems to be growing by the day.

This does not mean that vitamin D is the only cause of these diseases, or that you will not get them if you take vitamin D. What it does mean is that the possiblility of vitamin D deficiency should always be considered when dealing with these and related ailments; especially in those cases where there has been a failure to recover. It also means that health professionals and public health officials must review and revise their policies about being "Sun Smart" because these may be contributing to causing far more disease than they might be preventing. This is especially the case for dark-skinned people, like my partner and our children, who may require 20-50 times as much sunlight to be healthy as compared to white-skinned people like myself.

It bothers me constantly that vitamin D deficiency is seldom investigated as a potential factor in ill health. It bothers me even more when a blood test is ordered and the results are not properly interpreted.

Where does vitamin D come from?
Vitamin D comes pricipally from exposure of the skin to sunlight. The UVB rays convert cholesterol into vitamin D. Most of us make about 20,000 units of vitamin D after about 20 minutes of summer sun. This is about 100 times more vitamin D than the health experts say you need every day. If you are not getting vitamin D from sunlight then you need up to 4,000 units per day through diet (about 40 glasses of milk per day). Good dietary sources are:
  • Cod liver oil
  • Oily Fish
  • Eggs
  • Animal liver and other organs
  • Dairy products
This assumes that the animals, including the chickens and cows have been raised in open fields where they have been able to get plenty of sunshine themselves.

During days of no sunlight and during winter you may supplement with up to 2,000 units of vitamin D which you can get from Red Seal cod liver oil capsules (200 units per capsule) or Thompson's Vitamin D (2 capsules provide 2,000 units) available from .

Nutritents that are critical for health, including vitamind D, E and A are fat soluble. If you are on a fat free or cholesterol-lowering diet, your ability to uptake these nutrients through your digestive system and to put them to good use in your body may be severely compromised. You must take in fat with these vitamins. This is one reason why fat-free cholesterol lowering diets and medications are often associated with declining health.

If you have not already done so, go and ask your doctor for a blood test for vitamin D - even if you are presently healthy, then keep the results and compare successive results as the years go by. Write to me if you need assistance with interpreting the results.


Anonymous said...

You ignored the elephant in the parlour.

Just one or two sessions in a tanning bed will produce all the natural vitamin D3 a person can use. Popping a vitamin pill is not the remedy.

Vitamin D3 from UV light is more effective than vitamin D2 from supplements. Read the study:

Dermatologists have been misleading the public about the health benefits of moderate exposure to UV light. They are to be blamed for the epidemic of vitamin D3 deficiency.

Gary Moller said...

Yes you are right Jim and thanks for pointing this out.
I am gradually coming around to accept that tanning beds may have an important role especially where a person is diagnosed as being deficient and requiring a rapid boost. I have recommended to some people that they undergo a course of sunbedding - not to tan but to boost their D levels. This has been particularly useful for people in the depths of, say, a North American winter.

I will finish by repeating that it is sunburn and not the sun iteslf that causes skin cancer. The judicious use of sunbeds would not consitute a significant risk in this regard.

Thanks for the commnents Jim

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Anonymous said...

J Wint is right, vitamin D3 is more effective, D2 is synthetic & is the one usually used to fortify foods. The Thompsons vitamin D recommended in the article is actually D3 combined with fish oil & is therefore good.
P Winter.

Gary Moller said...

Thanks for clarifying that. The more I go into things, the more I believe that natural sources of vitamins is the way to go.