How To Avoid Big Health Problems By Fixing This Vitamin Deficiency
by Patricia Worby
One of the most urgent public health problems is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency across the western world. Unlike obesity, it cannot be easily recognized and there are no obvious early signs or symptoms attributed to it. But rising rates of Vitamin D-linked diseases suggest it is time we looked again at this vital vitamin. In this article we will explore why Vitamin D is integral to our health and how we can boost our levels naturally.
Why is Vitamin D So Important and Where Do I Get It?
Our understanding of Vitamin D has profoundly changed in recent years; long known to be involved in calcium regulation in the body, we now know it is not a vitamin at all but a powerful hormone made in the skin from sunlight that prevents cancer and auto-immune diseases. Deficiency is widespread due to our increasingly indoor lifestyles and the impact of sunscreens.
Recently, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to some of the most widespread diseases of our time: cancer, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, depression and osteoporosis (Vitamin D is involved with bone formation). Primary sources include:
- Exposure to sunlight: Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin from sunlight; from UVB radiation of a specific frequency range which varies with latitude and time of year. Staying in the sun (with your skin exposed) for 15 minutes a day is enough to obtain a daily norm of vitamin D3. If you would like to know the best time to step outside to catch a few rays you can keep an eye on the UV intensity in your area at: http://www2.epa.gov/sunwise/uv-index; just type in your zip code!
- Certain foods: D3- from animal-derived foods such as grass-fed dairy products, organ meats, oily fish (salmon, tuna) and cod liver oil. D2 is found in low levels in plant foods such as sunflower seeds, mushrooms and certain sprouted seeds. The plant-based options are relatively slim, so you may consider using supplements. Try using a vegan formula, one that is not in a gelatin capsule (if a supplement is put in vegetarian capsules, it will usually state that on the label) and is made from yeast or mushrooms, and make sure it contains D3. (And see more dietary suggestions below.)
Vitamin D is a Powerful Anti-Cancer Agent
The latest studies have shown that a variety of cells, not just skin cells, have the ability to convert vitamin D into its active form calcitriol for use in that tissue. This ability has been observed in breast, prostate, colon, brain and skin cells which immediately set researchers looking for the role it may play in the fight against cancer. Yes that’s right – Vitamin D is a vital anti-cancer molecule for the body!
Researchers have discovered that Vitamin D may play a role in the prevention of many cancers in two ways: inhibition of tumor cell growth including its network of blood vessels (angiogenesis), and stimulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis).
American researchers have estimated that, in the US, nearly three times as many Americans died from cancers arising due to lack of sunshine-induced vitamin D than died from skin cancer. So, sunshine is good for you – in many ways!
How Vitamin D Reduces Depression
The more we learn about Vitamin D the more important it seems to be; not only is it a profound anti-cancer molecule, it’s also a natural anti-depressant and immune system stimulator which may help to prevent MS and diabetes.
We all know that sunshine makes us feel good and there is good reason for this as the brain and skin produce melatonin and serotonin that induce a feeling of well-being and alertness in response to sunlight . We also know that when the days are shorter and sunlight is in small supply, winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can affect us. Broad spectrum lamps have been shown to be effective in relieving the symptoms of SAD. Unfortunately this light does not stimulate vitamin D production in the skin.
Various studies have shown that supplementing with high-dose Vitamin D (up to 4000 IU) increases well-being and decreases depression. The fact that supplements normally combine Vitamin D3 with omega-3 oil means that you get the benefit of both. One caution to keep in mind, as with all vitamin and mineral supplements, it’s a good idea to get your levels tested by a doctor or nutritionist to avoid improper dosage.
Vitamin D’s Role In Helping to Prevent Disease
Along with many other types of cell in the body, the immune system has been discovered to have the ability to make calcitriol, the activated form of vitamin D, suggesting that exposure to solar radiation may have a role in preventing and treating autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, D hormone receptors on the red and white blood cells get confused when they don’t have enough D, and they start attacking our body by mistake. All of the autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis, are related to low D hormone.
Vitamin D may be a powerful anti-cancer agent; as our white blood cells travel through our bodies while we sleep at night, they seek out and attack cancer cells. The occurrence of breast, colon and prostate cancer are believed to be related to low D levels. Women with breast cancer who are advised against taking hormones (referring to estrogen) would still benefit from taking vitamin D, as the proper levels will help the body’s own immune system fight cancer.
Even type-2 or non-insulin-dependent diabetics may benefit from higher vitamin D levels as it may help prevent the vascular complications (poor circulation in the feet and macular degeneration of the eyes) commonly associated with diabetes.
The Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency
A recent study in the UK showed an alarmingly high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency during winter and spring: 87.1% of the subjects had a deficiency. These studies have been repeated in other countries where similar deficiencies have been found to the point where the world’s leading expert on Vitamin D, Michael Holick has claimed ‘vitamin D deficiency is our most common health challenge globally.’
Did you know that a conversion of vitamin D takes place within our very skins? UVB rays from the sun act as a catalyst to convert Vitamin D to to its active form. Vitamin D deficiency (and rickets), however, is becoming common in developed countries as children — and adults — spend more time indoors. And when outdoors, we’re often covered up against the sun with clothing, hats and sunscreen.
Rickets is the name for softening and deformity of bones caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus; mostly, it’s associated with a dietary deficiency of vitamin D.
What Factors Increase Your Risk?
- Aging (less vitamin D is produced in the skin as you age)
- Skin color (darker skinned individuals are more at risk as they need more sunlight to raise levels in the skin)
- Use of sunscreens dramatically increases your risk; it would be beneficial to go without sunscreen for about ten minutes of exposure so that vitamin D (actually a hormone) can begin production in the skin. Many studies are now showing that the chemical content in commercially-produced sunscreens actually contribute to the formation of cancerous cells in the skin.
- Latitude where you live (people living at higher latitudes make much less vitamin D because the wavelength of sunlight is insufficient)
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need and How Do We Boost Our Levels?
Recent recommendations have suggested at least 1000 IU of vitamin D/day is required to bring vitamin D concentrations up to 75 nmol/l . This is the same as 20 – 60 minutes of sun exposure depending on skin color, latitude and the time of year.
Boost your vitamin D levels with these tips:
- Eat more oily fish and natural oils which contain Vitamin D. Supplement up to 4000 IUs per day in winter in northern climates. Food sources like organic butter are useful but better still if you can’t get enough natural sunlight is to supplement Vitamin D3 (particularly in winter when for those in northern climates you can’t make any in the skin). Dark-skinned individuals need even more than fair-skinned.
- Get tested before and after by your family doctor if you’re unsure of your levels – you want to get levels up to 75nmol/l.
- Expose your skin to UV light during the cooler hours of the day with use of sunscreen only after 20 – 60 mins. Regular, safe exposure is good for you. Also, try to avoid commercial sunscreens as they are full of cancer-causing chemicals. Use food-grade sesame oil instead as a natural UVB filter which blocks approximately 30% of UV rays and nourishes your skin at the same time.
- The Vitamin D Solution, a book by Michael Holick, is a goldmine of information.
- Important Note about sun exposure: Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin from sunlight; from UVB radiation of a specific frequency range which varies with latitude and time of year. Hence for many people it is not synthesized at all in the winter months (in northern climates particularly) and deficiency results. This is an example of why supplementation may be the only way to get enough vitamin D.
What About Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin D?
Food sources of Vitamin D are not as varied or instantly appealing as, say, Vitamin C foods or calcium foods, so it can be difficult to include daily D in your diet. Aside from getting out and having fun in the sun, what are the best foods to get your raw daily dosage of Vitamin D?
- Sunflower seeds
- Sprouted seeds
It’s important to note that Vitamin D and calcium have a love affair going on, so be sure to include lots of calcium-rich foods in the diet also. Here are some raw vegan plan sources of calcium:
- Dark leafy greens
Combining Calcium and Vitamin D
To ensure optimum absorption of dietary Vitamin D, you’ll not only want to ensure that good sources of calcium are included in your diet, but included in the same meal! Here are some ways to combine vitamin D and calcium:
- Pulse sunflower seeds and almonds into a dip or paste
- Thinly shave broccoli florets and toss with sprouted seeds into a salad
- Blend up a mushroom pate and spread on collard greens, then roll them up to eat!
- Add nuts, seeds, and plenty of dark leafy greens to a child-friendly green smoothie
- Blend silken tofu with fruit puree into vegan “yogurt”, top with crushed nuts and seeds
As you can see, dietary sources of Vitamin D are quite thin when it comes to plant-based foods. But there’s good reason for this: we actually make it ourselves. So get out in the sun and have some fun with your kids, sleeves rolled up, hats off, no screen (just for 10 minutes or so) and help their skin make some Vitamin D!
Meet Patricia Worby
I am a holistic therapist based in Southampton, UK, using the principles of naturopathic medicine to treat chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue/ME, anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalance, insomnia and chronic pain. I am a passionate believer in treating the cause of disease not just the symptoms; usually a combination of nutritional deficiency, toxicity and unresolved emotional trauma. I offer treatment packages which include nutritional medicine, hypnotherapy, massage and EFT to transform your life. www.alchemytherapies.co.uk. Contact me: [email protected] +442380321766, Skype: patricia.worby