Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vitamin Wheel of Fortune: Can I Get a D please?

I've heard or read two things about vitamin D recently that have me intrigued. Why? Because in the last year, at a visit to my doctor to consult about my metabolic syndrome, she tested my vitamin D levels and then reported to me that my current level of vitamin D was the lowest she had ever seen in a patient.

I didn't even know what the fuss was all about.

What I soon found is that vitamin D is an essential nutrient that affects not only calcium absorption but also the development of autoimmune disorders. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we spend time in the sun. People who suffer from low vitamin D usually live in northern climates with less exposure to the sun year-round and/or they don't spend a lot of time outside. Skin color also affects your vitamin D production. People with darker skin tones (i.e. African-Americans) require longer periods of exposure to the sun to produce enough vitamin D.

Low levels of vitamin D are now being linked to the development of autoimmune disorders like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and more.

We can also increase the amount of vitamin D in our bodies by not only spending a half an hour in the sun each day without sunscreen, but also by eating fatty fish that is wild-caught like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Cod liver oil is another great source of vitamin D (our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were on the mark when they dosed their children with cod liver oil at the first sign of illness). My heritage is Danish, so my ancestors lived in a high northern climate with more limited exposure to the sun year round. Yet they ate lots of fish which would have supplemented their more spotty sun exposure.

Anyway, back to where I started. I came across two articles items recently that reinvigorated my interest in vitamin D.

The first was from Dr. Christiane Northrup who wrote a fabulous book called Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. She was on Oprah recently talking about women's health and in connection with a discussion about osteoporosis, she mentioned Vitamin D deficiency and the effect it has on people.

What I liked about what she said wasn't printed in the text above. She said when a woman gets increased amounts of vitamin D in her system, her overall health improves and she has energy and vitality again. She said it is an essential nutrient for our bodies.

Then I read this blog entry by Dr. Mark Hyman who wrote Ultrametabolism. This book mostly addresses nutrigenomics--which is the study of how different foods turn on and off genes and gene expression in our body. Essentially we want a whole foods diet that will turn on the right gene expression. In this entry on his blog at he discusses in depth the affect of low levels of vitamin D.

My vitamin D tested recently at 18 ng/mL and my doctor told me that low levels of Vitamin D are a major precursor to all autoimmune disorders. She has me on 10,000 IU of Vitamin D daily (2 pills) and I have to take it for at least 6 months. I can already tell it is making a difference.

My other goal is to spend more time every day in the sun. I gained an early and healthy respect in my teens for skin cancer when a one of my parents' friends had a beautiful young adult daughter that passed away from skin cancer. I was vigilant throughout my teens about not becoming a sun worshipper who liberally applied baby oil and then fried myself for several hours under a 95 degree sun. I think in retrospect I swung too far the other way. I was more comfortable indoors reading or watching tv instead of outdoors where my lack of physical prowess would be tested. What started as a preference developed into more of a habit and now my goal is to be outdoors more--for work and play.

So, despite the cold January day it is, I think I'm going to eat my lunch on a bench outside. Want to come join me?

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