Nagy column: Sunshine on my shoulders,in a healthy,responsible way
John Denver had it right many years ago when he sang: “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” Denver was way ahead of his time, as much of the research data demonstrating the depression-alleviating effects of sunshine (vitamin D) had not yet been published. The many benefits of vitamin D are coming to light, and it seems that daily, there is more research validating the importance of having an optimal vitamin D level.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced naturally in human skin that has been exposed to Ultraviolet B light from the sun. Though labeled a vitamin, D is actually very similar to a hormone in the way it is synthesized and utilized. Vitamin D is made in/by the body from cholesterol and cholesterol lowering drugs are frequently associated with low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D has many health benefits. Here’s a Letterman-style top 10 list. These benefits are not necessarily in order of importance:
1. Vitamin D supplementation can be free. Just 15-20 minutes per day of sun exposure on untanned skin, longer if you have darker skin. It is important to avoid sunburn in the process, and individual exposure time will vary based on skin tone.
2. Vitamin D is anti-cancer. There are numerous studies showing that optimal vitamin D levels decrease the risk of up to 20 major cancers. You might stay out of the sun, thinking you are preventing skin cancer (and you may be of some types), but you’re also putting yourself at risk for many other common cancers by not optimizing your level. Do you want to lower your risk of breast cancer? Get out and get some sun exposure!
3. Vitamin D is good for the heart. Studies show that low levels of D increase the risk of heart attack 2.4 times compared to optimal levels. Men have 6 times the risk and women 3 times the risk of high blood pressure with suboptimal D levels.
4. Vitamin D is great for the bones. Long considered a staple in bone health, vitamin D plays a significant role in calcium metabolism and is important in the battle against osteoporosis.
5. Vitamin D prevents frailty and falls. In addition to strengthening the skeleton, vitamin D has been found to prevent falls in the elderly, more in men than women. The mechanism behind this has not yet been elucidated. Low D levels are definitely associated with frailty. A recent NFL study found more muscle injuries in those with low vitamin D levels.
6. Vitamin D decreases inflammation. Control of systemic inflammation is one of the keys to health and longevity, and an optimal D level plays a role in keeping inflammation in check.
7. Vitamin D may help prevent autoimmune disease. There are a number of autoimmune diseases that are positively affected by having an optimized vitamin D level. Multiple Sclerosis is one such disease as there is a strong correlation between low D levels and MS. Much of the anti-inflammatory link of D also has to do with helping to prevent autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis can possibly be treated or prevented with optimal levels of vitamin D.
8. Vitamin D is important in the treatment of Psoriasis and many other skin disorders. The higher the D level, the more easily treatable and manageable many skin diseases often become.
9. Vitamin D can assist in preventing the flu, in lieu of getting the flu vaccine. Not to get into the politics and nuances of vaccines, but research shows that vitamin D levels are lowest in the winter months (less sun exposure); coincidentally, flu is most common during this time period. There is quite likely a connection. If you decide not to get a flu shot, try optimizing your D level to help battle this common affliction.
10. Vitamin D optimization requires that we get outdoors more, which would do us good, as we are spending more time indoors and less time outdoors living life the way we were meant to. Of course, a supplement may do the job too, but sun exposure is one of the best methods to improve your D levels.
11. Vitamin D has been shown to help modulate and improve insulin resistance. This means that optimal D levels may even help prevent and modulate type 2 diabetes. With the epidemic of diabetes we’re facing, anything to help decrease diabetic problems will be a bonus.
Oops, that is more than 10. What I listed above is just scratching the surface, and more will be revealed with the passage of time and continuing research. Vitamin D influences approximately 2,000 genes in the body. The bottom line is, your vitamin D level is important to maintain optimal health and longevity.
I consider an optimal D level to be 50-70ng/ml (70-100 if you have cancer or heart disease), as that is what current science supports. My general recommendation is to have your 25(OH)D level checked, and if low, take 2000-5000iu of vitamin D3 (not D2) daily, possibly more based on your level and a discussion with your doctor. Most of us can tolerate 10,000 iu per day without overdosing, but I would not recommend this as a routine dose without testing. Your level should be checked once or twice per year to ensure that you are at an optimal level. “Normal” is not an acceptable level; find out your number.
If you are on a statin cholesterol medication, definitely have your vitamin D level checked, as vitamin D is made from cholesterol. Statin use and low vitamin D levels are a common association.
Most treatment protocols for vitamin D deficiency include a once weekly dose of D3 or D2 (50,000iu). I prefer using a daily dose as I feel it is best to get a small amount daily rather than a huge amount weekly. That is my personal preference. What day of the week is the day you need one large dose (assuming your digestive system is functioning optimally and you absorb the full dose) and what days are the days you don’t need to supplement?
To further educate yourself on this topic, I strongly recommend you watch Dr. Michael Holick’s lecture, “Vitamin D and Prevention of Chronic Diseases” on YouTube. This lecture details the significant health benefits of Vitamin D. Not only is this lecture extremely informative, it is surprisingly entertaining in the way the information is presented. Holick is a preeminent Vitamin D researcher.
Enjoy the sun (responsibly, without burning).
Disclaimer: This information is being offered for educational purposes only and should not replace or be used as a substitute for recommendations from your personal physician. In other words, proceed at your own risk in beginning or partaking in any of the recommendations mentioned.