Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all but is actually a steroid hormone. These fat-soluble signal molecules are able to enter the cell and turn the genes on or off. These genes include those that regulate the absorption of calcium from the intestines, the building of strong bones, and the efficient and coordinated activity of our immune systems.
New research has found this amazing “vitamin” plays an even stronger role in the prevention of disease, including heart disease, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, depression, autoimmune diseases and at least 17 different types of cancer.
In the Framingham Heart Study, it was observed that men with higher levels of vitamin D were less likely to suffer a heart attack. Higher levels of vitamin D are also associated with a lower likelihood of developing breast and colon cancer.
The standard American diet (SAD) contains very little vitamin D. Eight ounces of cow’s milk, which does not naturally contain vitamin D, is fortified with approximately 100 units (IU) of vitamin D. This falls far short of the current RDA of 2,000 IU for Adults and 400 to 800 I.U. for children. To get there with fortified milk you would have to drink 20 glasses a day!
The best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet rays convert inactive vitamin D that is stored in our skin to its active form – vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. Just 10 to 20 minutes of summertime sun will trigger the production of about 10,000 to 20,000 IU of vitamin D in the body.
Over the last two decades there has been an emphasis on avoiding the sun because of a concern for skin cancer. Our increasingly sedentary indoor lifestyle, fear of skin cancer and subsequent use of sunscreen have all contributed to the current epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.
A recent study confirms that Americans are not getting enough Vitamin D.1 The data showed that 75 percent of children and adults in the US fall below acceptable vitamin D levels.
The recommended daily sun exposure without sunscreen is about 15 minutes for light-skinned individuals and 30 minutes for darker skin. For healthy adults and adolescents who avoid the sun during winter months, as well, I would recommend 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.
When supplementing Vitamin D, don’t forget its cofactors, the necessary nutrients the body needs to utilize vitamin D properly. These include: magnesium, zinc, vitamin K2, boron and small amounts of vitamin A.2 The most important of these is magnesium, as supplementing vitamin D can unmask an underlying magnesium deficiency.
So go outside, get safe sun exposure, use sunscreen as directed and ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels!
Vincent Pedre, M.D. is an integrative, Holistic General Practitioner and Board-Certified Internist in private practice in New York City.
More from ecomii:
1. Ginde A.A. Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the US Population, 1988-2004. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(6):626-632.
2. Vitamin D Council. “Understanding Vitamin D Cholecalciferol.” Accessed on September 9, 2010 at http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/.