Time after time, studies pop up that cause public and news media frenzy. The claim of definitive results is the basis for either a boost or drop in whatever the study proves or disproves. We saw this with pork in the early 80’s only to see that disproven and a resurgence in eating pork by the 90’s. It happens with everything from foods to vehicles to medications. Pushing ahead, basing all their knowledge on one study, outlandish claims with flimsy or no evidence, and rule that it is truth. These trends cause products to soar or crash. This happens in the world of vitamins and supplements on a regular basis. One of the most recent Vitamins to go through this rollercoaster of good and bad, effective or not, essential or a waste, is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin. You do need it. That being said, you need to be aware of what it is, what its purpose is, where you get it from naturally, what effects it and how much you need. It is also important to be aware of your own physical needs for vitamin D based on several factors.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not a vitamin. It is a steroid hormone that the body produces – with the right stimuli. It is made from the cholesterol in the skin where it is changed into a more active form by the liver. There are 5 types of Vitamin D, D1 – D5. D3 is made by the body.
What purpose does Vitamin D serve?
Vitamin D controls calcium ions and phosphates in the blood as well as calcium and magnesium absorption in the intestines.
Where do we get Vitamin D?
The sun provides the majority of our vitamin D supply. It can be found in naturally in some foods, foods that are supplemented with vitamin D and supplements. When the suns radiation makes contact with the skin it reacts with the cholesterol and changes into a more active form by the liver. This process can only happen with sunlight.
What can effect Vitamin D absorption?
The biggest culprit is lack of sun exposure. With today’s ultra-sensitivity to the threat of skin cancer, many opt out of sunshine altogether. Wearing clothing to cover arms and legs, sun screen or sun block, hats and sunglasses leaves little room for Vitamin D to be made. Medications can also effect vitamin D production and absorption. Anti-convulsive, anti- seizure, hormone blocking (used in prostate and breast cancer treatment) and steroids (used daily for 3 months or more). Excessive alcohol and smoking can also have negative effects on nutrients getting to the bones and produce brittle bones over time. Cystic Fybrosis and Gastic Bypass also cut out the nutrients going to the small intestines as well as those who are anorexic or bulimic. Those who follow a Vegan diet may also need to have their Vitamin D levels checked. All of these have an effect, either directly or indirectly on Vitamin D absorption and would need supplementation.
Vitamin D, on the whole, is a very safe supplement. It is okay to take without physicians consent as long as you stay within the recommended 400IU to 800IU daily. If you suffer from any medical conditions such as over active parathyroid gland, kidney disease or arthritis, your physician will most likely already have you taking Vitamin D, as these are diseases that contribute to bone loss. You can take too much, as with any supplement your body will only use what it needs and taking too much Vitamin D can cause a myriad of side effects such as appetite loss, vomiting, nausea and more. These can be reversed by stopping the use of Vitamin D supplements and taking calcium. Vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand. Vitamin D assists calcium to the bone – kind of like a chauffeur. Because of this, those taking calcium supplements usually take Vitamin D too.
Children who suffer from Vitamin D deficiency has been on the rise. This is due partly to poor dietary habits and the constant slathering of sunblock and sun repellant clothing. For the most part, this is a good thing except when time exposed to the sun is completely deleted from a child’s day. 20 to 30 minutes – broken up in increments of 10 – should be sufficient for acceptable levels of vitamin D production. It seems the sun block idea has been taken to an extreme and it is time to relax it a bit.
Elderly white women over the age of 65 are magnets for issues with their bones. If you are or you know someone who fits that description, they should be encouraged to have a vitamin D level test done. Most elderly women and men are taking medications and supplements as their years advance. Calcium and Fish Oil are two of the biggest but Vitamin D should be a daily supplement as well. As you age, your skin has less of the cholesterol that is needed to produce vitamin D. This results in a drop in natural vitamin D production. Also, when you age, your ability and speed to make new bone slows. This causes less bone production and even some cannibalistic behavior by the body – it will seek out the calcium from the bone and use it elsewhere. This causes seriously brittle and fragile bones. Supplementation and exercises that includes weight bearing (walking, light weight lifting) tasks can help speed up the new bone production. In the elderly, Vitamin D has been proven to help with muscle control also. This is important as muscle function gets compromised as aging occurs which causes less stability, more falls and more fractures.
For those who have not hit the over 65 stage in life yet but are wanting to improve their bone health now, keeping to a well-balanced diet is step one. Include foods like Salmon and eggs that have Vitamin D in them. Consume calcium and vitamin D fortified foods. Include weight bearing exercises in your daily life and go out and spend some time in the sun. Keeping your bone health in check now and making a healthy diet and exercise a habit now will enhance your bone health in future.