The Importance of Vitamin D
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Start Taking Vitamin D
In March, 2010 The American College of Cardiologists met in Atlanta for their annual scientific conference. One of the main points of discussion was the importance of Vitamin D in the prevention of major diseases, especially heart attacks and strokes.
A number of papers were presented by some of the most imminent cardiologists and scientific researchers that dealt with the daily minimum and maximum levels of Vitamin D in the human body.
A consensus of these studies showed that people with low levels of Vitamin D had an 80 percent greater risk of death, a 54 percent higher risk of diabetes, a 40 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease, a 72 percent higher risk of kidney failure and a 26 percent greater risk of depression.
Previous studies have also shown that low levels of Vitamin D can be linked to greater risk of osteoporosis, breast and colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, dementia, influenza and even the common cold.
Whenever you see studies like this with very huge numbers in the non-Vitamin D group you have to assume that people who take Vitamin D supplements and who get more Vitamin D from the sun tend to be healthier, spend more of their time outdoors and probably eat better foods. To verify the results, a further study was done in Utah which included 9400 patients. They found that very healthy people who were able to increase their Vitamin D intake could reduce their risk of death by 30 percent and their risk of coronary artery disease by 17%.
This means that even if you are in perfect health, Vitamin D supplementation can make you even healthier.
Low levels of Vitamin D are found among people who live in high latitude areas of the world such as the northern United States and Canada. During fall and winter’s feeble sunlight, it isn’t possible to make the nutrient the natural way: in bare skin exposed to ultraviolet light. That is why we call it the sunshine Vitamin and it is the only vitamin that is not found in adequate amounts in our food supply. There is a tiny amount in milk and larger amounts in cold water salmon and sardines, but not enough to satisfy our body’s requirements. We must use supplements over the winter months.
As we learn more about the value of Vitamin D supplementation, the dose guidelines keep on increasing. At the present time both the Osteoporosis Society, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Multiple Sclerosis society recommend 2000 I.U. daily. Although Health Canada is well behind the times, recent clinical studies have shown that up to 5000 I.U. daily can be tolerated safely by the human body.
Although this disease is usually associated with inadequate calcium intake, Vitamin D is the critical factor that insures the all the dietary calcium is properly absorbed and transported to the necessary areas. A recent study was just published indicating that too much calcium could actually cause a 30 percent increase in heart disease. A close examination of this study showed that they used a product called Caltrate 600, which contains 600mg of calcium carbonate and which does not contain any Vitamin D. If they had used any of the other 999 varieties of calcium supplements that do contain Vitamin D they would never have had that result. Osteoporosis is much more prevalent among small boned females who live in high latitude areas such as Canada and England and is almost unheard of in populations living closer to the equator.
Vitamin D and Cancer
A recent study by Dr.Reinhold Vieth, a nutritional scientist at the University of Toronto showed that many cells in the body use Vitamin D to produce a signaling molecule that allows cells to communicate with each other. These signals help cells to differentiate and to recognize what type of cells they should become in order to efficiently produce the needed cells in our body. If they do not get a signal to differentiate, they will keep on proliferating and that is how cancers are produced. You want your cells to be well behaved and produce what is necessary, not out of control and just reproducing in great numbers. Vitamin D seems to keep this process under control and thus prevents many forms of cancer.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, suggested in the March 2007 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine that taking 2000 IU of Vitamin D daily along with 10 to 15 minutes in the sun and a healthy diet could reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by two-thirds. The same authors found that breast cancer rates were 50 percent lower in people with high levels of Vitamin D in their blood, and suggested that the average person could maintain these levels by taking 2000 IU of Vitamin D daily and spending 10 to 15 minutes in the sun.
Statistically we know that sufficient amounts of Vitamin D in our blood stream greatly reduce heart disease and the risk of death but how does this happen? Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D acts as an anti-inflammatory by reducing the amount of interleukin-10, an enzyme that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. It also has an effect on angiotensin and this lowers blood pressure and finally it reduces serum cholesterol. In fact, most statin drugs try to imitate the positive effects of Vitamin D in lowering cholesterol but they usually cause other problems when they do this.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country and low levels of Vitamin D indicate that we are putting ourselves at huge risk of death from this disease. Once again, the 2000 IU recommendation is the one to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Most people are familiar with a condition known as SAD (seasonally affected disorder). We all have it to some degree because when we are outside on a sunny day we are happier than when we are inside on a dull dreary day. This is quite normal but for many people the lack of daylight and the shorter days causes severe depression. But what if it is not just about sunlight, but Vitamin D as well?
Recent studies have shown that summer sun actually causes a twofold increase in serotonin levels in our brain. This definitely improves our mood. The newest research has shown that Vitamin D helps maintain levels of tyrosine, an important amino acid involved in brain function along with glutathione and the production of nitrous oxide which increases blood flow and hence the delivery of oxygen to our brains. All these functions will keep us in a better mood, and all of these functions may vary depending on our Vitamin D levels. It is a lot safer to take 2000 IU of Vitamin D than some prescription drug antidepressant that may have very harmful side-effects.
Influenza and Colds
Last year we had a very unusual flu season. Our normal influenza epidemic was notoriously absent. More and more people taking large doses of Vitamin D may have been a factor. We were inundated with commercials from our government to get the vaccine. The strange thing was that although millions of people came down with the H1N1 the year before, it set a record for the lowest number of deaths caused by any influenza virus. On top of that when it had died out by the end of the year we kept on waiting for the usual seasonal flu to come but it never showed up.
I think two very important factors were at play. In the first place, we Canadians are finally getting the message and taking large doses of Vitamin D from the early fall right through into the spring. Secondly, no matter where you go today you will find hand sanitizers everywhere, even in the line at the bank. I think the combination of these two factors virtually eliminated our flu season.
Auto Immune Disease
New studies from Oxford University in London indicate that Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in certain auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
In a normal immune system the thymus produces T-cells which act as little soldiers who go out and destroy invaders such as bacteria, viruses and other foreign material. New research shows that Vitamin D is a very important component of your immune system and people who are genetically predisposed to these diseases and have reduced levels of Vitamin D are most likely to get them.
Multiple Sclerosis primarily affects people in northern latitudes such as us and northern Europeans. It is an auto immune disease that causes lesions in the brain and spinal cord and develops very slowly from birth showing first symptoms at around 30 years of age. It is now felt that a lack of Vitamin D during pregnancy could be one of the factors in precipitating the disease to those who are genetically predisposed. Not only that, the majority of MS sufferers are born in the month of November and start their lives in darkness
Rheumatoid arthritis is a very strange auto-immune disease in which the body thinks there is an invader attacking and sends out the killer cells to surround and destroy the invader. This process causes great amounts of inflammation around the joints and a high degree of pain and limited mobility. It is the immune system out of control and once again low levels of Vitamin D have been shown to be a factor in those people who are genetically predisposed to this condition.
Another recent study done at Exeter University in England by Dr. David Llewellyn studied 850 Italians over the age of 65 years. They found that those who had low levels of Vitamin D were 60 percent more likely to suffer from dementia and 31 percent of them tested lower in cognitive tests even before they showed any symptoms. Although it is only a theory, the researchers felt that Vitamin D was involved in calcium transport and without moving calcium to the proper areas, in this case through the brain cells, their was an accumulation of calcified areas and an increase in amyloid plaques inside the brain tissue.
In case you were thinking about asking your doctor about a blood test for Vitamin D you might as well forget it. So many people have requested this test that it has caused a very huge expense in the health care system and it is not accurate, so in August of 2010, the Ontario government decided to stop paying for the tests which cost $51.70 each. In 2004 the cost of these tests was 1.7 million dollars, but by 2009 the government paid out 66 million dollars for vitamin D blood tests. Vitamin D is stored in the fat tissues of the body and in the bone. The blood test only measures the amount found in the blood stream while it is undergoing an active process. That means your blood test could show low levels of Vitamin D even though you may have huge stores of Vitamin D in your fat tissues.
By this time of the year most of us are low in Vitamin D and should start taking the supplement. For once I agree with the government that the test is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.
Brands and Dosage Forms
No matter what brand you buy, no matter the dosage form, liquid, tablets, capsules or softgels, there is only one manufacturer in the world that produces it for everybody. They are a pharmaceutical manufacturer known as Hoffman La Roche. The process involves extracting cholesterol from the lanolin and sheep wool of Australian lambs where the ozone layer is the thinnest in the world and allows strong unfiltered sunshine. They further irradiate this material to produce 7-dehydrocholesterol which is the precursor of natural Vitamin D, known as Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. All the supplements available for sale in the health food store and the pharmacy are in this form and known as Vitamin D 3. There is a Vitamin D2 but it is only used in pharmacies and is only about 1/50th the strength.
From the time your read this article until daylight savings time next year, my personal recommendation is that you take no less than 2000 IU daily and no more than 5000 IU each day. As Canadians living in a northerly climate I feel that this dose will give you the maximum health benefits you need to maintain a good state of wellness during our long winters.