A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in your body, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout your body. Researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half. As mentioned by Dr. Holick, one of the Nurses' Health Studies showed that nurses who had the highest blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, averaging about 50 ng/ml, reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, a Canadian study done by Dr. Knight showed that women who reported having the most sun exposure as a teenager and young adult had almost a 70 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Dr. Holick noted:
"Studies have shown that if you improve your vitamin D status, it reduces risk of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and a whole host of other deadly cancers by 30 to 50 percent. You're correct. Cancer is a big deal. You need to realize that vitamin D is playing a very important role in helping to maintain cell growth and to help fight cancer when a cancer cell is developing in your body."
Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. In this interview above, Dr. Holick expounds on these and many other health benefits of vitamin D. For instance, optimizing your vitamin D levels can help protect against:
- Cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D is very important for reducing hypertension, atherosclerotic heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. According to Dr. Holick, one study showed that vitamin D deficiency increased the risk of heart attack by 50 percent. What's worse, if you have a heart attack and you're vitamin D deficient, your risk of dying from that heart attack creeps up to nearly 100 percent!
- Autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D is a potent immune modulator, making it very important for the prevention of autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Infections, including influenza. It also helps you fight infections of all kinds. A study done in Japan, for example, showed that schoolchildren taking 1,200 units of vitamin D per day during winter reduced their risk of getting influenza A infection by about 40 percent. I believe it's far more prudent, safer, less expensive, and most importantly, far more effective to optimize your vitamin D levels than to get vaccinated against the flu.
- DNA repair and metabolic processes. One of Dr. Holick's studies showed that healthy volunteers taking 2,000 IUs of vitamin D per day for a few months up-regulated 291 different genes that control up to 80 different metabolic processes, from improving DNA repair to having effect on autoxidation (oxidation that occurs in the presence of oxygen and/or UV radiation, which has implications for aging and cancer, for example), boosting your immune system and many other biological processes.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need for Optimal Health? When it comes to vitamin D, you don't want to be in the "average" or "normal" range, you want to be in the "optimal" range. The reason for this is that as the years have gone by, researchers have progressively moved that range upward. At present, based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. As for how to optimize your vitamin D levels, appropriate sun exposure is the best way. Generally speaking, this will be when your skin turns the lightest shade of pink or, as Dr. Holick recommends, about half of the time you suspect it would take you to get a mild sunburn (So if you know you tend to get sunburned after 30 minutes, you'd want to stay in the sun for about 15 minutes). How long you need to stay in the sun varies greatly depending on the factors such as age, use of sunscreen, time of day, skin color or current level of tan, and season. Oftentimes, however, our D3 level is still too low and our disease defense walls are down.
Get Your Vitamin D Levels Tested
How do you know if your vitamin D level is in the right range? The most important factor is having your vitamin D serum level tested every six months, as people vary widely in their response to ultraviolet exposure or oral D3 supplementation. The test is called 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, and you can have it done by virtually any physician. You should test at your highest point, which (if you live in the US) is typically in August and again at your lowest point, which is usually February. Knowing your vitamin D levels is one of the most important tests you can take, so please, if you haven't checked your levels before, do it now -- I cannot stress the importance of this enough. When I found mine to be only 18, I began taking 25,000 IU a day and then retested my blood serum level after 2 months. It rose to 74. After that I have used a maintenance level of 10-15,000 IU per day, depending on the time of year. Some of my clients choose to stay on 25,000/day without having their blood level checked as I had recommended and when they were tested, found that the level had risen well over 100. Again, I highly recommend checking it after 2 months to see how your body is adjusting and then backing down the dose to a maintenance level. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing and levels must be checked, as there is no way to guess. Hypervitaminosis D is a rare but potentially serious condition. It occurs when you take in too much vitamin D and it is usually the result of taking high-dose vitamin D supplements for long periods of time.
Ask your physician to order the blood test for you or you can add it to your screening at the 9-News Health Fair without a doctor's order. It is simple, inexpensive, easy and way too important to overlook when developing your health and wellness plan. Contact me directly if you would like to book an appointment for a health and wellness consultation/goal development plan. It's time for me to get out in the sun now and get away from the computer awhile! Enjoy your day.