Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin

Brace yourself for an onslaught of news about and admonitions to be vaccinated for the flu.  Recent reports indicate that this year’s flu vaccination includes protection against H1N1 but in all likelihood, H1N1 will be a non-issue.  Flu vaccination manufacturers simply guess at which strains of the flu might be prevalent each season and they are reportedly accurate less than 30% of the time.

Are you interested in having a higher degree of protection from the flu and enjoying other health benefits as well?  Look no farther than Vitamin D.  Here are some facts:

Vitamin D is misnomer; it is actually a hormone produced by the skin upon exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet B rays.  For years, humans spent a huge portion of their time in the sun but recently we’ve almost all become deficient in this miracle substance, largely because we’ve been made afraid of the sun.  If we do venture out, we are slathered in sunscreen, which keeps out harmful rays but actually reduces our ability to manufacture Vitamin D by as much as 95%.  Small wonder modern diseases have such a stranglehold on our population.

Sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to generate vitamin D in your body; therefore it is sometimes called the Sunshine Vitamin. It takes about 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure for our bodies to manufacture all the Vitamin D we need to have optimum health.  The darker one’s skin and the higher one’s latitude on the planet, the lower the effectiveness of our Vitamin D “factory”.  Our bodies will shut down the factory once we have manufactured about 20,000 iu of this hormone, therefore it’s impossible to overdose. There is evidence that tanning beds can mimic the sun’s ability to facilitate Vitamin D production; readers are cautioned to use them sensibly.

Vitamin D is vital to keep our immune systems functioning.  That is why it is effective at warding off the flu.  Last year my doctor surprised me by advising me to supplement my diet with 2000 iu per day to avoid the flu.  (Doctors are generally not prone to providing information on nutrients, hence my shock).

Vitamin D is also effective at preventing a myriad of modern diseases including heart disease, various types of cancer, diabetes, schizophrenia, depression and osteoporosis. (Many people think calcium prevents osteoporosis but in studies where calcium was supplemented without Vitamin D, the calcium was ineffective).

In fact, the recent prevalence of these diseases can be attributed in part to our Vitamin D deficiency.

  • 32% of doctors and med school students are vitamin D deficient.
  • 40% of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient.
  • 48% of young girls (9-11 years old) are vitamin D deficient.
  • Up to 60% of all hospital patients are vitamin D deficient.
  • 76% of pregnant mothers are severely vitamin D deficient, causing widespread vitamin D deficiencies in their unborn children, which predisposes them to type 1 diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia later in life.
  • Up to 80% of nursing home patients are vitamin D deficient.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D is a mere 400 iu.  Remember, RDA’s were designed as nominal doses, the least amount required to sustain minimal health and prevent such diseases as rickets, a softening of bones in children, potentially leading to fractures and deformity.  Some experts say we need as much as 10,000 iu per day.

Vitamin D is activated in our bodies by our kidneys and liver. Having kidney disease or liver damage can greatly impair one’s ability to activate circulating vitamin D. Obesity also impairs vitamin D utilization in the body, meaning obese people need twice as much vitamin D.

Vitamin D is found in some food products including oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, fish liver oils, eggs, liver, and mushrooms. Dairy products are routinely fortified with Vitamin D but you have to drink ten tall glasses of vitamin D fortified milk each day just to get minimum levels of vitamin D. Skim milk and other low-fat dairy products reduce the absorption of Vitamin D because it is a fat-soluble nutrient, requiring fat to be transported through the body.

It is nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from your diet and unfortunately most manufacturers fortify foods with the synthetic version, D2.  Our bodies most effectively use the natural version, D3.  If you purchase supplements look for D3 or cholecalciferol; some experts advise buying gel caps instead of tablets.  Vitamin D supplements are relatively inexpensive.

I urge you to consider supplementing your diet with Vitamin D, particularly in the fall and winter. If you get a chance to take a winter vacation to a sunny locale, leave the sunscreen in your bag until you’ve been out for half an hour or so.  Midday sun is most damaging so if you avoid exposure between 10AM and 2PM, you may be able to dispense with sunscreen altogether.

By the way, I took my doctor’s advice and I had no colds or flu last year and I didn’t have to stand in line for a flu shot.  I recently added Vitamin D to my regimen of supplements for this season and I hope to take a couple of winter escapes to soak up some sun.

Sources for this article include Wikipedia and Natural News, which has over 300 articles related to Vitamin D.  It’s interesting reading that is sure to bolster your health.