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The Critical, Yet Overlooked Nutrient

eating well living wisely Mar 24, 2018
What nutrient is critical to our bodies, yet relatively easy to make if we're in the right place for the right amount of time?  Is called a vitamin but acts more like a hormone?  Is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer when low and reduced breast cancer risk when optimal?  Can relieve fatigue as well as joint and muscle pain when low levels are supplemented?
If you guessed Vitamin D, you're right!

Vitamin D is Critical, Yet Overlooked 

 Vitamin D is involved in all of the above and many more actions in the body.  Many of us know about its importance in bone growth (rickets!) because of milk commercials, but  just look at some other signs you may not have realized were related to Vitamin D deficiency:  
  • Decreased adrenal function
  • Decreased immunity - the "I catch everything going around" person
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Poor wound healing
  • Increased allergies and systemic inflammation
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure and a heart attack
  • Increased risk of multiple sclerosis

How Do I Get Enough Vitamin D?

With low levels being nearly endemic in the U.S., we may wonder why it is so difficult to get and maintain sufficient amounts.  The body normally makes its own Vitamin D after being exposed to a "pinking" dose of sunlight - between 10-15,000 units can be manufactured by the liver and  converted to the active form by the kidneys after one session of 15-20 minutes for those who don't tan easily.  

Darker skinned people need longer exposures as do those in the Northern hemisphere during winter months.  In fact, those two cohorts may need supplementation routinely to maintain normal levels.

Optimal Levels of Vitamin D

While the recommended daily allowance, RDA, for Vitamin D is geared towards avoiding severe deficiency, optimal levels are higher, usually 40-80 ng/ml depending on the person.  These are the levels that we will see some of the protective effects of Vitamin D such as slowing of tumor growth and improved gastrointestinal mucosal and immune status.

Many of my patients also find that their chronic pain seems to improve dramatically when they begin supplementation, often to their pleased surprise.  

As noted above, these levels are best obtained through getting an appropriate level of sunlight and letting the body "do its own thing."  And of course, we all know the risks of too much sun - unfortunately, much of my practice takes care of those patients.

Vitamin D levels Can Be Too High, Too

Because it is fat soluble, there is a risk of getting too much Vitamin D, especially when supplementing.  Like other fat soluble vitamins, the inability to easily excrete excess amounts can cause high levels and toxicity.  Now we may see hypercalcemia (high calcium levels) and depletion of other nutrients, especially magnesium and Vitamins A and K as these three are closely related to D metabolism.  Paradoxically, immune status may suffer, as it did when levels were too low.  And women may note more hot flashes related to fluctuating estrogen levels.

Get Tested, Be Safe

Since there is a specific range that is optimal for Vitamin D and everyone's requirements and sun exposure vary, it's best to test levels at least once a year.  If supplementing, especially at higher doses of 5000 IU+ daily, retest 2-3 months later to ensure that levels are in that optimal range.

Checking your Vitamin D levels is easily done at your physician's office, so there's no need to overlook this critical nutrient any longer.  Shine on!






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