Vitamin D is like the kid in the movie “Home Alone”. Everyone knows it’s there and is a part of good health but no one knows exactly where it is or what it is doing. It’s only been in the past 5 or 6 years that vitamin D’s real value and requirements have been studied.
First of all, what does Vitamin D do? It’s pretty simple really. Vitamin D controls calcium and phosphorus in our bodies. Great! As a result, for the longest time we thought it had to do only with bone growth and strength and when we didn’t get enough, we got Ricketts (thinning and softening of the bone). Well, it does do that and so much more that I’ll get to later.
How do we get it? It is not really found in too many things that we eat. The fattier fish like mackerel and herring have it but for the most part the only way we can get it in our diet, except as a supplement, is when some milk company fortifies their milk with Vitamin D. The majority of it is actually produced by our bodies when we are exposed to the sun. Here’s the problem. We have recently discovered that some of us (especially those who live in the north) don’t make enough especially between mid September and mid April. It has been shown that the further north you live (or the further south you live in the Southern hemisphere), the less UV light you get, which means you won’t make enough Vitamin D. It has to do with the angle of the earth and all that stuff. What does it mean for us? Draw an imaginary line from San Francisco, California to Norfolk, Virginia. If you live north of that line you are probably deficient.
Ok, so why is Vitamin D so important? Here is where the amount of information has exploded. I won’t get into the specifics because it’s too voluminous. In a nutshell, besides bone growth and development, Vitamin D is involved in immune enhancement, the treatment and possible prevention of multiple sclerosis, as a possible prevention in arteriosclerotic heart and vascular disease, the treatment of hypertension, the prevention of osteoporosis, the prevention and treatment of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, preventing dental disease, supporting lung health and mood elevation (remember SAD?). The list is probably no where complete even now.
How much do we need? The RDA says 400 units a day. Heck, our bodies can make up to 15,000 units a day during the summer and except for possible sunburn, no one died has from that. The debate is still ongoing and you’ll see amounts ranging from 800 units a day to 10,000 units a day or more. As for me I take 5000 units a day in the early fall to late spring and 2000-3000 units the rest of the time. Now don’t go out and buy a car load and take it. You should have your vitamin D level checked as well as your calcium and phosphorus levels and possibly your parathyroid hormone level. In addition, many vitamin D supplements come equipped with a load of vitamin K which can interfere with those on blood thinners.
You see it is a bit more complicated than some would lead you to believe.
No matter what you do with respect to any supplement, adequate testing must be done and a medical history obtained before you start taking anything. Remember, too much of anything can cause harm. Make sure whomever you see is trained in pharmacology and capable of interpreting lab results. Unfortunately, some “holistic physicians” lack this schooling. Therefore, it’s always best to check with your family MD or DO or come see us at the Balance of Life Clinic and we, in concert with your family MD or DO, can make recommendations for your supplement needs. A smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H. is a physician at the BOLC.