Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vitamin D - gettin' the good stuff!

Image compliments of  THANK YOU IT'S A BEAUT!!

In my life as a worksite wellness practitioner, I write monthly health newsletters and have done so for over a year now.  Vitamin D is consistently in the news.  There are always vitamin-of-the-year trends (like selenium and vitamin E in the recent past, both of which were shown to be just fads in trials).  However, Vitamin D keeps coming up as providing some SERIOUS benefits!

Vitamin D plays a big part in reducing the risk for a great number of diseases: osteoporosis, some cancers, autoimmune infections, and cardiovascular diseases.  It's essential for calcium absorption, which is why you see many calcium fortified foods also now contain vitamin D.  How do we get this vitamin?  Both through diet and exposure to the sun.  Did you know that ten minutes in bright summer sunlight provides a blast of 10,000 IU of vitamin D?  (We'll get to dosing and IU - International Units - later.)

Blood levels of vitamin D in adults in the US are amazingly low.  77% of adults were shown to have deficient levels in a recent study.  Why is this?  We're inside more, we wear sunscreen (which blocks vitamin D absorption from sunlight), we don't, in general, eat enough of the foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, and many parts of the United States don't get strong sunlight year round.

In fact, if you draw a line from San Francisco to Boston, any location above that line gets weak sun for most of the year - exception being the summer.  During the fall, winter, and early spring months, the sunlight at our latitudes is not strong enough to provide vitamin D for skin absorption.  And... don't get me wrong - I am not advocating tossing your sunscreen either.  It protects from many harmful aspects of sunlight, those that can cause skin cancer.

So what are we to do? 

The current recommendation is 400IU (International Units) of vitamin D daily.  International units are the measure of vitamins and other supplements, and can be found on the nutritional information of all vitamin supplements.  Studies are underway to assess whether that 400 IU number is enough.  It is projected that the recommended dosage may creep up to 800 - 1000 IU daily for adults.  And, for those who have vitamin D deficiency, taking larger doses (like 2000-3000 IU daily) may be needed to boost levels to the recommended amount.  Blood tests can determine your vitamin D levels, and check with your doctor before beginning a vitamin d regimen.  Signs of vitamin D deficiency are lethargy, muscle soreness and low energy levels, but those may be the result of extremely low levels.  You may want to ask for this test next time you get your blood work done.

Standing in the bright summer sun for ten minutes can bring a dose of 10,000 IU in one quick blast!  However, we do not recommend tossing your sunscreen.  How can you balance this out?  You can go outside during mid-day, in the summer, and sit for exactly ten minutes, which is not long enough to give a sunburn.  Set a timer to make sure you do not burn!  Then apply sunscreen as you would.  You'll get the health benefits of vitamin D without the dangers of sunburn and sun exposure over long periods of time.

How do we get vitamin D in the winter in the north?
Dietary sources are tricky.  Fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel are rich in vitamin D, especially when the fish is wild, not farmed.  In foods that are fortified with vitamin D (milk, orange juice, soy milk) there may be 100IU per serving, which means you have to chug a lot of milk to get a good vitamin d boost.

Which leads us to supplements.
Because sun exposure can be tricky and have negative side effects, and food sources are few and far between, supplements may be for you.  I personally take seven seas fish oil and vitamin d3 supplements, along with one or two other things.  Vitamin D3 supplements come in many doses, even up to 2,000 IU capsules.  Check with your doctor before taking large doses, to see if it's really necessary for you.  Who knows - maybe you're one of the 22% of the population with adequate levels of the vitamin, in which case - keep at it!

Vitamin D in the news.
Keep your eyes peeled for the results of this great study that's starting soon.  The Vital Study is getting underway testing Omega-3 and Vitamin D3 supplements - together and separately.  Omega 3 oils are shown to help cardiovascular health, and the disease fighting vitamin D will be tested as well.  Harvard and the National Institutes of Health will be working on this five year study, involving placebos, double blind testing, the works.  They're testing people over 65 to see how the supplements affect risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and stroke in people with no history of those conditions.

That's the scoop on vitamin D - keep it in mind next time you get your blood tested.  I went to the doctor today and am scheduled to have a full blood panel done - it's been ages since I've even had a primary care doctor, so it's time.  I'll let you know how it goes!


Mandy said...

Anna, this is a great post. I do supplement vitamin D in the Winter but living in the South, not really needed in the Summer (got to much today:( haha. Love the blog! Hope you have a great weekend, Namaste, Mandy

anna said...

Hi Mandy! The most important thing is awareness - it's amazing how much I learn doing health stuff for work - and how ignorant I'd be if I didn't have this gig. Glad to know there are others out there who are on top of it! Namaste indeed.

Jake said...

NICE: I fully endorse this post, Anna. I (try to remember to) take 4000IUs everyday and it definitely makes for a kinder, happier (sunnier, or is that going too far?) Jake. More research needs to be done, and more folks need to know that vitamin D can help them feel better and healthier.

Patty said...

Found this article of great interest since turning 50 all the docs are looking at bone density and D was recommended as you said to help with absorption of calcium- the additional benefits are all too terrific. Wouldn't it be a hoot if you say Vitamin D stations out side office buildings where you could "go get my dose of D" -part of the wellness program of course!

Patty said...

Great information- having turned 50 all the good docs and literature are into Vit D and calcium- the other benefits are terrific too.
Wouldn't it be a hoot if work sites had Vit. D stations where employees could go out and get a dose- who knows what happy positive things could happen with less lethargic teams.

Patty said...

Great Infoamtion- especially for us over 50 gals D and calcium the rage routine. Also liked learning the other benefits of D- imagine if one could go at work to their Vit. D station for a dose- imagine the up swing from perky people.

Patty said...

Great information especially for us gals over 50- the push for Vit D and calcium is on! The other benefits are also terrific- how about each workplace has a Vit.D station where folks can go out and get a dose- what blast of enegry!

Patty said...

Great Info, especially for us over 50 gals. The extra benefits beyond the calcium mate are terrific.

anna said...

@Jake did you have a doc tell you to take that booster dose? Glad you're feeling positive effects!

@Patty - thanks for your love for Vitamin D :) keep reading and I'll have more good healthy tips.

Jake said...

Yes, my shrink had me try it. I gotta little bit of the depressions, and vitamin d is becoming recognized as a healthy, effective means of treating it. Definitely better than some of the harder stuff. It's made a difference for me for sure.