VITAMIN D - THE WINTER DEFICIENCY:

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A Link To Osteoporosis, Hypertension, Diabetes, Cancer,

Allergies, Autoimmune Conditions, & Depression

by Laura Power, MS, PhD, LDN

© November, 2005

Did you know that if you live in Washington DC that you cannot make vitamin D from sunlight 6

months out of the year?  From October through March!  New research shows that many people in

northern latitudes are deficient in Vitamin D, because sunlight is insufficient during the winters

to stimulate the production of vitamin D in skin.  These deficiencies have been linked to higher

rates of certain cancers, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune conditions,

skin diseases, and mood disorders.  The good news is that this is an easy and inexpensive

deficiency to correct.  The National Cancer Institute has sponsored major research on vitamin D.

And in 2004 the National Institutes of Health held a conference on vitamin D, and this is what

they found.

Researchers have discovered that tropical diets have 10 times as much vitamin A and D as

northern diets, and that many tropical people are healthier and do not suffer from the “northern

diseases” listed above.  This means that you can make simple inexpensive changes to your diet,

supplements and lifestyle that could prevent major diseases.

MAJOR RISK FACTORS

Are you at risk for vitamin D deficiency?  Do you avoid sunshine?  [You need sun exposure daily

in the summer between 11 am and 3 pm – without sunscreen or windows for 15 – 20 minutes.]

Do you wear a strong sun-block?  Do you avoid dairy products?  Do you have a low fat diet?  Do

you avoid seafood?  Are you pregnant or nursing?   Do you use corticosteroids (oral, inhalers, or

creams)?  Do you have very dark skin?  [If so, you may need 6 times as much sun exposure

during the summer, and extra vitamin D during the winter.]  Do you live in a very cloudy, foggy,

or polluted climate?  Or above 30 degrees latitude?  All these can increase your risk of vitamin D

deficiency.

Vitamin D levels have fallen in many populations around the world, particularly northern

climates.  “In northern California 80% of clients tested during winter months demonstrate

vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.”(1) This is primarily due to changes in diet and lifestyle.

Few people spend the day outdoors anymore, and most who do wear sun screen.  Furthermore,

the traditional daily dose of cod liver oil went out of fashion 60 years ago (although it is now

making a resurgence).  As a result vitamin D deficiency diseases have been on the rise again.

HOW VITAMIN “D” WORKS

We get our vitamin D from both sun exposure and certain foods.   Sunlight at certain

wavelengths stimulates our skin to make vitamin D out of cholesterol.  But the angle of the sun

during winter above 30 degrees latitude is simply insufficient to make vitamin D. Vitamin D is

also in certain foods, including fish oils and dairy products.  Vitamin D in its metabolized form is

actually a hormone.  It works in the skin, kidneys, muscles, heart, and in 30 different cell types.

Vitamin D has 3 major functions.  (1) It helps us absorb, transport and metabolize essential

minerals, particularly: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, which perform vital functions

for bones and enzymes.  (2) Vitamin D promotes proper cell development and differentiation.

For example: it can convert stem cells into bone cells.  (3) And it helps regulate the immune

system (thus preventing cancers).

HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?

Children need between 400 units and 800 units / day of vitamin D, depending on their age and

size.  Teens and adults need about 1000 units/day.  Those over the age of 50 need about 2000

units/day.

DEFICIENCY DISEASES

Do you have any of these symptoms or diseases?  Vitamin D deficiency has now been shown to

relate to the following diseases:  Adrenal insufficiency, allergies, Alzheimer’s Disease,

autoimmune disorders (including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis), cancers (of the

colon, breast, skin, and prostate), dental problems (misaligned teeth and cavities), diabetes

(Types 1 + 2), increased fractures in the elderly, gluten intolerance, heart disease, hypertension,

infertility, learning disorders, lectin intolerance (a type of allergen), myopia, obesity, osteopenia,

osteoporosis, osteomalacia, Parkinson’s Disease, PMS, psoriasis, rickets, seasonal depression

(SAD), sexual dysfunction, and Syndrome X (insulin resistance).  Let’s look at some of these in

more detail.

OSTEOPOROSIS

Vitamin D is essential to the absorption and transport of major minerals involved in bone

metabolism.  These include: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.  Vitamin D deficiencies

have been associated with several bone diseases.  These include: osteopenia (low bone minerals),

osteoporosis (thinning bone), and osteomalacia (adult rickets).  vitamin D deficiency has also

been associated with increased fractures in the elderly, which often result in major surgery and

too frequently in death.

CANCERS

Vitamin D modulates the immune system.  It reduces cell proliferation, induces cancer cell

death, and inhibits metastasis.  Several double-blind controlled studies sponsored by the

National Cancer Institute have shown remarkable results with vitamin D therapy.  By increasing

the intake of vitamin D from the old 400 i.u. per day to 2000 i.u. per day, they were able to

reduce the rates of colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer by 50%!  Higher doses were

used with black male patients (3000 – 4000 i.u. / day), which reduced the rate of prostate

cancer by 90%.  What a bargain for $5-7 / month!

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

Vitamin D has been shown to lower blood pressure by two mechanisms.  Vitamin D inhibits

rennin synthesis in the kidneys; this is a substance that increases blood pressure.  Vitamin D

also helps absorb magnesium; magnesium deficiency is a leading cause of high blood pressure

and heart disease.

DIABETES

Vitamin D deficiency has been related to diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2.  Type 1 is an

autoimmune disorder, which destroys the beta cells of the pancreas.  Vitamin D has been

effective in down-regulating many autoimmune disorders.  Type 2 diabetes involves low insulin

levels.  This is frequently related to zinc deficiency, since zinc is part of the insulin molecule.

And zinc is dependent on vitamin D.  Insulin resistance is different.  This involves both high

insulin and high glucose.  This problem is at the receptor site, and often involves deficiencies of

5 different trace minerals, 5 B vitamins, and alpha lipoic acid.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES & ALLERGIES

Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

These are diseases where the immune system overreacts and attacks our own cells.  Because

vitamin D therapy regulates the immune system, it has been shown to improve many of these

diseases.  These include:  Diabetes 1, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Allergies, Rheumatoid

Arthritis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Vitamin D may also down-regulate allergy

symptoms.

MIND & MOOD

Vitamin D is also a crucial factor in mental and emotional states.  Deficiencies have been

associated with: SAD (seasonal affective disorder, depression),  PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome),

mood swings, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

SKIN DISEASES

Certain skin diseases or conditions have also been associated with vitamin D deficiency.  These

include: skin cancers, psoriasis, burns and poor healing.  The latter two skin conditions are likely

related to zinc deficiency, which is an important factor in skin healing, and is dependent on

vitamin D.

TESTING

Testing for vitamin D is easy.  Any major laboratory can do a blood test for 25-hydroxy-vitamin

D.  Deficient = < 30 ng/ml.   Optimal = 40 – 60 ng/ml.    Toxic > 150 ng/ml.  In locations

greater than 30° latitude, north or south, values are naturally higher at the end of summer and

early fall and lower in winter and spring.

THERAPIES

Sunlight:  Get 15-20 minutes of sunlight in the middle of the day (10-2 in winter) (11-3

summer) without sunscreen.  These are the only times vitamin D production can be stimulated

in the skin.  If you live above 30 degrees latitude, you will not make vitamin D from winter

sunlight.

Foods:  Cod liver oil, Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna in oil  [but mackerel & tuna may have mercury],

Sardines in oil, Herring, Milk, Cheese, Butter, Eggs, Beef Liver, Mushrooms.

Supplements:  Take 800 – 1000 units of Vitamin D per day in the winter.  If you are over 50

years of age, you probably need 2000 units vitamin D per day.  Take more only if you have

testing that supports a higher usage.

VITAMIN D TOXICITY

Levels greater than 70 ng/ml have been associated with bone loss, heart disease, and other soft

tissue calcification.  Chronic intake of excessive amounts of vitamin D may cause irreversible

damage. 

WARNING!

Do not take vitamin D if you have Crohn’s Disease or Sarcoid Cancers – these conditions already

make extra vitamin D.

Some useful links for further reading:

1.

www.sunlightandvitamind.com

2.

www.cholecalciferol-council.com

3.

http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp

4.

www.bupa.co.uk/health_information/html/health_news/261103vitd.html