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Surprising new findings about vitamin D

by Katherine Willow, ND

In recent years, numerous studies have overturned several ideas about vitamin D that the health community had taken for granted for decades.  The new findings have unearthed a wealth of therapeutic possibilities and answers to difficult conditions.

First of all, our former ‘normal’ blood values of the D vitamin were actually too low, reflecting the fact that a high percentage of people in the northern hemisphere are deficient in this essential vitamin.  It turns out that it is impossible to realistically get enough vitamin D from the sun in the winter months, and the current sunscreen fad blocks out the rays necessary to make vitamin D through our exposed  skin during the rest of the year.

Secondly, what we thought was a sufficient supplement dose was also too low, and vit D toxicity levels are much higher than previously stated.

Third, and maybe most startling, is how many more functions vitamin D contributes to and therefore is crucial in treating many conditions other than bone health.  These include depression, immunity, cancer, multiple sclerosis, ADD, brain function in general, neuromuscular development and obesity.

Both the medical and holistic arms of health care have started to increase the recommended doses and now check blood values more critically.  Whereas we used to be careful not to exceed 400 IUs (international units) per day, now it is not unusual to see health practitioners suggesting 1000 IUs daily and some even go up to 10,000 IUs for seasonal depression (SAD), osteoporosis and cancer.

This has been fairly accepted over the last several years.

Now there is newer information on how to fine tune one’s intake of vitamin D that is vital.  I’ll summarize briefly.

We already know that vitamin D helps us absorb calcium. However, if we don’t have enough calcium and other beneficial minerals in our system, vitamin D will facilitate absorption of undesirable minerals such as heavy metals (ie, from dental fillings).

Even more alarming is that without sufficient minerals there will be bone loss to make up for them with minerals being deposited in soft tissues such as artery walls, mediated again by vitamin D.  So if we are taking high doses of it without having an overall balance of nutrients, there is a risk of harm through these mechanisms.

In addition, vitamin D cannot function without adequate vitamin K, the nutrient that helps our blood clot.  People with a vitamin K deficiency don’t benefit from their vitamin D supplements.  Vitamin K is obtained especially from greens.

This isn’t the first time I have witnessed the overturning of science about a particular nutrient.  It never seemed wise to use vitamins and minerals in doses that are substantially above those in a balanced diet except in extreme cases and for limited amounts of time.  Even high doses of calcium can cause problems.  Better to focus on more vegetables in the diet, aiming for at least seven servings a day.

I have had to accept the need for some supplements even for healthy people in our modern, unnatural world because of how our food supply has been devitalized, the amount of toxins we are (often unknowingly) exposed to and the insidious types of stress of civilized life.  Let me just say that I now think that supplements are an essential tool in everyday life — along with whole foods, exercise, meditation, emotional awareness/flow and an inspiring life purpose.

Personally I take 2000 IUs of vitamin D daily in the winter months along with regular greens which give me my vitamin K, 1000 IUs when there is lots of sun, and none in August just to give my body a break.  I fantasize about a sheltered sun-filled porch where one could sunbathe in the winter.  It would only take 20 minutes a day to fulfill the vitamin D requirements and one could do meditation and breathing exercises at the same time. . .

Yet some winter days it really is just too cold and sometimes we just don’t have enough sun in the sky.  I guess we’re stuck with supplementation as whale blubber, a source of D, isn’t very practical either these days.  Other tips that help the body utilize vitamin D include regular liver maintenance (cleansing), moderate exercise (excess can lower fat levels too much) and taking a form of vitamin D that is natural and available to the body: that is, D3 in a liquid spray (available at our clinic).

On a professional level, this new information will alert us to be even more careful about how we recommend vitamin D, making sure we do blood tests, screen for mineral balance through hair analysis and continue to help people create a balanced food plan for their condition and constitution that take these new studies into account.