Most of us grew up drinking milk to obtain vitamin D and knew that this would create healthy strong bones. We were also told not to get too much of the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,and K. And other than that we never gave vitamin D any further attention. The current recommendations for vitamin D are and have been for years, 200 to 600 IU per day. Now researchers are finding that this is far from enough. Did you know that the sun’s ultraviolet light effect on the skin can produce upwards of 20,000 IU/day of vitamin D? In fact full body sun exposure in the tropics for 30 minutes in light skinned individuals will produce 50,000 IU of vitamin D. Given this information it seems reasonable to conclude that those of us in New England get very little vitamin D from the sun and not nearly enough from our diets. Recently a vitamin D deficiency was found in 93% of 150 patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain in Minnesota. In Massachusetts, 57% of 290 medical inpatients were found to be deficient. In Saudi Arabia, 83% of 360 patients with chronic low back pain were found to be deficient. Clearly this is not just a New England problem.
Vitamin D is not just a vitamin; it is a hormone as well. Vitamin D receptors have been found in the intestines, bones, brain, breast, prostate, and lymphocytes. Since this is true, it is possible for vitamin D to influence function and physiology and a wide range of health conditions and metabolic states. There are two forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is the form produced in the skin, and is obtained in the diet from dairy products, fish and fish oils. The second type, vitamin D2 is produced by irradiating fungi. This is the type added to milk and is much less potent than the natural vitamin D3. Without sufficient vitamin D your body cannot absorb calcium, rendering calcium supplementation a waste of time and money.
Numerous conditions have been associated with vitamin D deficiencies:
Cardiovascular disease: Vitamin D deficiency is a cause of heart failure, is associated with congestive heart failure and the risk of heart attack is twice as high if you’re deficient.
Hypertension: ACE blockers are really a derivative of vitamin D. It has been known for 40 years vitamin D lowers blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes: Low vitamin D levels are associated with insulin resistance, hence higher glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes: Infants and children, who took 2000 IU’s of vitamin D per day, reduced the incidence of type 1 diabetes by 80%.
Osteoarthritis: Arthritis of the knee and hip has been shown in a Framingham study to progress more rapidly when there is a vitamin D deficiency.
Multiple sclerosis: Autoimmune/inflammatory disease is more common in the northern latitudes. One clinical trial used 5000 IU’s of vitamin D for two years and noticed a modest anti-inflammatory effect.
Depression: The seasonal affective disorder, which is most common in the winter months when there is less sunlight, is often treated with antidepressant drugs or light therapy. Vitamin D supplementation was found to significantly improve the mood within as few as five days.
Epilepsy: Antiepileptic drugs may lead to iatrogenic seizures by causing hypovitaminosis D. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to significantly reduce seizure frequency.
Migraine headache: Calcium and vitamin D supplementation help normalize vascular tone that is altered in patients with migraine.
Polycystic ovary syndrome: Calcium and vitamin D supplementation on a weekly basis helps normalize menstrual irregularities.
Cancer prevention and treatment: As early as 1941 the relationship between sunlight exposure and cancer mortality was documented. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of malignancy in the breast, colon, ovary, prostate, bladder, esophagus, kidney, lung, pancreas, rectum, stomach, uterus, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It has been proposed that adequate exposure to ultraviolet light and/or vitamin D supplementation could save more than 23,000 American lives per year.
Musculoskeletal pain: Several studies have shown how patients with chronic lower back pain, or even children with limb pain have had 100% reduction in the pain by taking five to 10,000, IU’s of vitamin D a day for three months. As a chiropractor, I have been acutely aware of the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in this region. And like most people, I have not been giving vitamin D the attention it deserves. Armed with the new information about vitamin D that has been coming out in the past year, I can honestly say that I doubt that there are very many people who have adequate levels of vitamin D.
Anyone who is considering taking high levels of vitamin D should have their blood levels checked along with calcium levels periodically. Be aware that the laboratories are often using the old “norma”l values. The good news is that getting the adequate vitamin D is not expensive. Tanning beds that emit a vitamin D producing ultraviolet radiation can also raise vitamin D levels. If we are lucky, we will have adequate sun this summer so that we all can raise our vitamin D levels naturally. But be advised that sun blockers/sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher will block our own body’s production of vitamin D by 99.9%. Maybe this explains why primitive cultures used to worship the sun.
Randy Schaetzke, D.C., D.I.B.A.K.