We're starting to hear a lot about vitamin D lately, and it is no wonder. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several types of cancer (especially breast cancer), high blood pressure, diabetes (types 1 AND 2), depression, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, stroke, Alzheimers, the list goes on and on. This is an essential vitamin, known casually as "the sunshine vitamin" because our bodies can manufacture vitamin D from the UV rays of the sun. I have a Google Alert on vitamin D so that I can keep up with new info about it. About 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. About 80% of women in the US are at least marginally deficient. Also, more and more children are being diagnosed as deficient in vitamin D. In fact, certain diseases once though to be eradicated, such as rickets, are making a comeback and this has health officials baffled. In big cities, they are starting to see kids who are obese, but suffer from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. What is particularly scary about vitamin D deficiency affecting children, is that it seems that a severe deficiency early in life will contribute to health problems later....Even if vitamin D levels are brought back up when they are older. (There has been a link made between women who are deficient as youths battling high blood pressure later in life, even after the deficiency was corrected.)
There are very few food sources of vitamin D apart from sunshine, and with the exception of one, all of them are animal sources. Good, whole milk contains vitamin D, as well as eggs from pastured chickens, but keep in mind that pasteurization destroys all the pathogens, and all the nutrients as well. Manufacturers then add back cheap synthetic, chemically created nutrients which are near-worthless to the body. Especially the vitamin D that they add: most companies boast a "vegetarian source" of vitamin D, meaning D2. That's great, except the vitamin D with all the health benefits is D3, or Cholecalciferol. Also, egg yolks from pastured chickens contain vitamin D, but most chickens today have never seen a pasture. It is a big deal for egg producers to put "vegetarian diet" on their egg-cartons, to let you know that they aren't putting anything sick or gross in their chicken feed (like they put in cattle-feed). That's all well and good, except that chickens aren't meant to be vegetarians: they're omnivores. They love to scavenge and eat insects and worms (remember: insects are an excellent source of high-quality protein!). When chickens are put on a restricted diet, many nutrients found in pastured eggs don't make it into the eggs of commercial chickens. That's why you can only be sure your eggs yolks contain vitamin D if they come from pastured chickens who were allowed to graze and eat their natural diet.
Of course, the best food-source of vitamin D is from fatty fish, such as salmon, and high quality cod-liver oil. But, of course, we're told to steer clear of fish whenever possible because they are hopelessly contaminated! The least-contaminated fish are deep, cold-water fish from the Pacific ocean which are low on the food chain, like sardines. If you take cod liver oil, do your research to find out how it is processed. Choose the darkest oil you can find (lighter oils likewise nutrient-light). Molecularly distilled is apparently the best process for removing heavy-metals and other pollutants while keeping nutrients intact. The great thing about Cod Liver Oil is that it also contains vitamin A, and the ratio of A to D is in perfect proportion (as are the ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3's). According to The Weston A. Price Foundation, any intake of vitamin D increases your body's need for vitamin A. But I digress....
The only plant source of vitamin D is found in mushrooms, and it is a scant supply at best. But isn't it fascinating that the only plant source of "the sunshine vitamin" is found in a fungi that grows in the shade???? I think so.
Vitamin D is essential to support your immune system, and has been proven to be more effective at preventing the flu than the flu vaccine....Wait, what???? So, doctors and other healthcare professionals must really be encouraging people to take their vitamin D this winter, right? Wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: doctors often discourage taking vitamin D supplements, recommend no more than 400 IUs of the vitamin, and advise avoiding cod liver oil "to avoid toxicity." Wow. If doctors warn about vitamin D toxicity, it must really be devastating, right? That's what I wanted to know, and this is what I found:
Vitamin D CAN be toxic at extremely high doses. In fact, it is used in rat poison for this very reason (as is Coumadin, a blood thinner which is extremely prevalent in most medicine cabinets). But according to The Vitamin D Council, the dose at which vitamin D will kill half the rats tested, is the equivalent dose of 110-lb human adult ingesting 176,000,000 IUs (that's one-hundred, seventy-six million IUs, in case you have trouble counting the zeros). Also, the only reported case of pharmacological vitamin D toxicity was a man who took an over-the-counter supplement which contained a manufacturing error: the man was unknowingly taking almost 2,000,000 IUs of vitamin D daily for two years. So what happened? He recovered, uneventfully, after proper diagnosis, with a treatment of steroids and sunscreen. And just what are the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity? Well, they appear to be nausea, heartburn, and constipation or diarrhea. Because vitamin D is a natural blood thinner (which is why it is important for blood pressure and heart health), it can thin the blood too much when taken in excessive doses, causing dizziness. oh, my! Dizziness! What a horrible side-effect! So much worse than stroke or lymphoma, a common side-effect of many prescription drugs, which is a particularly deadly type of cancer that attacks the lymph system. Wait...what? So, doctors have no qualms prescribing drugs known to cause an aggressive type of cancer with a low survival rate in order to treat restless-leg syndrome, but are fearful of you getting more than 400 IUs of vitamin D on the basis of "toxicity", which will affect you basically the same way as a Chicago-style deep dish pizza?
If we follow the logic that because we were meant to make vitamin D from the sun, we could measure how much vitamin D we make during a day in the sun and consider that a healthy dose, right? So just how much vitamin D do you make from the sun? Well, 30 minutes (sans sunscreen) in the summer sun, and you'll make over 10,000 IU's of vitamin D. But wait...I thought the RDA was only 400 IU's, for fear of toxicity! So this must mean that every person who ever lived before the invention of sunscreen suffered from vitamin D toxicity! That's a lot of constipated people! Or, could it possibly be that we need MUCH, MUCH MORE vitamin D than was previously realized? Considering that all the diseases that vitamin D is known to prevent are only modern phenomena's and are directly correlated with the modern phenomenon of vitamin D deficiency, I'd say the later is more logical.
I have decided to take 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily, and have had only positive results. I could probably do more, but it is true that it doesn't pay to be over-zealous with supplements. And I don't have time to get the runs.