Vitamin D – A Life Saver?
Have you checked your vitamin D status lately? It is a simple blood test. Ideally, you want to maintain a vitamin D level of 40 to 60 ng/ml year-round. Based on mounting research, 40 ng/ml appears to be the “magic” number at which a whole host of health benefits are reaped.
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As reported by Science Daily:
Cancer incidence declined with increased vitamin D. Women with vitamin D concentrations of 40 ng/ml or greater had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than women with levels of 20 ng/ml or less.
Previous research found that a vitamin D level of 50 ng/ml was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer patients with an average vitamin D level of 30 ng/ml were also twice as likely to survive compared to women with low levels (average 17 ng/ml).
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports an association between vitamin D and overall mortality risk (risk of death). In one 54-month long study involving more than 422,800 healthy adults, those who were most deficient in vitamin D had an 88 percent increased risk of death from any cause.
How vitamin D works
The best understood role for vitamin D is in the control of how your body uses calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones. However, research is showing that many organs and systems in your body may also need active vitamin D.
Active vitamin D works by entering cells and attaching to a protein called the vitamin D receptor, located in the nucleus of cells, where the genetic material is located. This combination of vitamin D and its receptor stimulates the cell to make proteins that regulate the way the body works.
For example, some of the proteins produced in response to vitamin D in the intestine help transport calcium across the intestine and into the bloodstream, greatly increasing the absorption of calcium from the diet. The vitamin D receptor is found in several cells that are critical for controlling the metabolism of calcium, phosphorus, and bone, intestinal cells, bone cells, kidney cells, and parathyroid gland cells.
Vitamin D receptors also are present in most other tissues, including the brain, heart, skin, ovary and testicle, prostate gland, and breast, as well as the cells of the immune system, including white blood cells and other key immune cells.
What is your vitamin D level?
A study published in the March 23, 2009, issue of “Archives of Internal Medicine” reports that three out of four Americans may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency with certain ethnic and racial groups at higher risk. Adit Ginde, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, says the results of the study suggest that more Americans may need to increase their vitamin D intake to improve their health.
How do you raise vitamin D levels?
Diet – Include more foods in your diet that have vitamin D. Although an important step, it might be the most difficult because there are only a few food sources that are naturally rich in vitamin D, including liver, egg yolks, cod liver oil and seafood such as trout, tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Drink milk and orange juice, which are fortified with vitamin D. Other fortified foods include margarine, breakfast cereals and some cheeses. According to a National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet, fortified foods provide most of a person’s dietary sources of vitamin D.
We can see from the statistics above that three out of four Americans may be deficient in vitamin D so diet may be a difficult way to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.
Sun Exposure – The dermatologists have brainwashed society into thinking complete sun avoidance is the only way to avoid melanoma or skin cancer. As you read above, adequate vitamin D levels are crucial to prevent chronic diseases, including cancer.
Unless you have skin cancer, try this: get 10 minutes of sun exposure two to three times each week exposing about 25 percent of the skin’s surface. Exposing just your hands and face to sunlight may help you to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D.
Sun exposure is not a guarantee of adequate vitamin D levels and exposure is inconsistent depending on where you live, time of year, your schedule, etc…
Dark skin absorbs less sunlight, so people with dark skin do not get as much vitamin D from sun exposure as do light-skinned people.
Supplements – Are probably the most reliable way to get the same dosage every day, with diet and sun exposure you don’t really know how much you are getting.
How much should you take? Recommendations vary from 200 IU to 20,000 IU per day! This is something you should discuss with your doctor and depends on many factors such as your current vitamin D levels, where you live, sun exposure, time of year, compliance and other factors.
The Vitamin D Council — a scientist-led group promoting vitamin D deficiency awareness — suggests vitamin D treatment might be found helpful in treating or preventing autism, autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, flu, neuromuscular diseases, and osteoporosis. However, clinical trials have not been performed.
Interactions with Medications
Vitamin D supplements have the potential to interact with several types of medications. A few examples are provided below. Individuals taking these medications on a regular basis should discuss vitamin D intakes with their healthcare providers.
Corticosteroid medications such as prednisone, often prescribed to reduce inflammation, can reduce calcium absorption and impair vitamin D metabolism. These effects can further contribute to the loss of bone and the development of osteoporosis associated with their long-term use.
Both the weight-loss drug orlistat (brand names Xenical® and alliTM) and the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine (brand names Questran®, LoCholest®, and Prevalite®) can reduce the absorption of vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins. Both phenobarbital and phenytoin (brand name Dilantin®), used to prevent and control epileptic seizures, increase the hepatic metabolism of vitamin D to inactive compounds and reduce calcium absorption. Discuss with your doctor.
What to Do
As we see, vitamin D may be a very important tool in treating and preventing a variety of conditions; however, few clinical trials can back this up.
So, get your levels tested, get sensible amount of sun exposure, eat a good diet with vitamin D rich foods, decide on a good dosage of vitamin D with your doctor and BE WELL!
Remember health is a journey and not a destination. What you do in the practice of health care will go miles and pay dividends over time.
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