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Vitamin D – A Daily Essential

Vitamin D is one of the single most important nutrients that you can take.  It’s important for strong bones, the heart, the immune system, the brain, mood, memory, muscles, joints, balance, overall comfort, physical strength and much more.  In fact our Olympic athletes take vitamin D as part of their preparation for the Olympic Games.  The problem is that according to the Archives of Internal Medicine, March, 2009, three out of four Americans have insufficient levels of this critical nutrient; therefore if you're not supplementing, assume that your levels are low.

The reality is that vitamin D is not really a vitamin at all.  It’s a steroid hormone normally made by the skin when we are outside in the sun.  But herein lies the problem: we’re inside most of the time, and when we do go out, we tend to slather on sunscreen blocking the suns UV B rays which create Vitamin D.  Bottom line... most of us aren't making close to enough vitamin D.  As a steroid hormone, vitamin D has tremendous impact on our health as it signals to about 2,000 genes to turn on or off.  If we don’t have adequate levels of this critical healthy aging factor, we simply can’t function at a high level.  

An interesting article in the journal: Nature Immunology, March, 2010, illustrates the central role of vitamin D in supporting a healthy immune system.  In fact, I found the following two lines to be so amazing, it prompted me to write this article.   Before you read these quotes, it's important to understand that T-cells are powerful immune cells, critical to mounting a strong immune response against a foreign pathogen such as a virus or bacteria.  Professor Geisler, lead author of the article explains: “When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a signaling device or “antenna” known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it searches for vitamin D.”  “This means that the T Cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease.  If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilize.”  

Now that’s incredible!!  You literally, cannot mount a strong, healthy immune response without adequate levels of vitamin D.  Years ago, when my patients asked me what they should take to support their immune system, the first nutrient I would mention was Vitamin C; but in the past four years, I’ve absolutely switched.  Now the first recommendation is to supplement with Vitamin D.

Vitamin D does so much more for us. In study after study we see that Vitamin D helps seniors to remain strong and fit. For instance a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2007 Jun;92(6):2058-65 (doi:10.1210/jc.2009-2309), seniors with higher levels of vitamin D were able to walk faster, rise from a chair faster and balance better.  Conversely, 90% of the seniors with the lowest physical function had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D.  A recent study from McGill University in Canada, published in the same article found that insufficient blood levels of vitamin D may be associated with the accumulation of fat in muscle tissue, leading to lower muscle strength. 

Vitamin D supports healthy bone density and reduces the risk of hip fractures. An interesting study showed that residents in a nursing home who supplemented with 5,000 IU’s of vitamin D per day were able to increase their bone density at the lumbar spine and hip in 12 months.  As many of us are well aware, hip fractures can be devastating and are often the beginning of long hospital stays, major health complications and are often the prelude to the beginning of a long nursing home stay.
Multiple studies have shown that seniors with adequate levels of vitamin D have better learning, memory, mood and cognitive function than their peers with suboptimal levels.  Recent research from the Archives of internal Medicine shows a frank connection between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk of both nonfatal and fatal heart attacks in men.

Considering the many benefits one achieves and the many health risks one avoids by maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D, I consider it "A Daily Essential” nutrient. Because I live in NY, where it is impossible to make vitamin D in the winter, I take 10,000 IU’s from mid October through April. The rule of thumb is that if you live north of Atlanta, you probably can’t make vitamin D in the winter due to the low angle of the sun.  Another good rule is the shadow test: If your shadow is longer than you are, the sun’s rays are not strong enough for you to make vitamin D.  I lower my intake to 2,000 IU’s per day from May to mid October because during this time period the sun’s rays are strong enough to make ample vitamin D when we're outside. I’m a fitness buff, so I’m outside often and get plenty of sun (recall, the skin is responsible for making vitamin D upon exposure to direct sunlight). If you don’t get out in the sun much during summer, or use sunscreen regularly, you will probably need to maintain higher levels of supplementation even in the summer months. Note that sunscreen effectively blocks the UV B rays which are what create vitamin D when they come in direct contact with your skin. So if you regularly use sunscreen, keep your supplementation levels up in the summertime.

Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test. The next time he/she orders blood work for you, ask him to check your levels of vitamin D by ordering a 25, hydroxyvitamin D3 blood test. The levels should be above 30ngs/ml and
50-80 ngs/ml is closer to ideal. If your doctor won’t check your vitamin D levels you can order a kit from the Vitamin D council at: If your level is significantly lower than 30ngs/ml you should start with 10,000 IU’s per day if it’s summer time and 15,000 to 20,000 IU’s in the winter time. Keep that routine up for 2 months and recheck your levels. Adjust future supplementation accordingly to keep your vitamin D status between 50,000 and 80,000 on your blood work.

Another important consideration, if you live in the northern latitudes like me, is to have your levels checked in the winter time, towards February or March. This is when they will naturally be lowest do to the lack of direct sunlight. If you only have them checked in the summer you may think your levels are good all year round, when they might be dipping down in the winter.  I firmly believe that low vitamin D levels are one of the main reasons that some people become glum, lethargic, and even a little depressed in the winter months.

The best news is that Vitamin D is one of the least expensive nutrients that you will find. I’m currently carrying Physiologics Vitamin D3. Each capsule has 5,000IU’s of vitamin D3 and the 200 softgel bottle is only $15-, making it possibly the best bang you can get for your health care buck. Click here if you would like to purchase this product. Personally, if I could take only 2 nutrients, they would be vitamin D and a good omega 3.
Eat right, exercise, supplement wisely and maintain a positive mental attitude, that’s how we’ll age gracefully together.

To Your Good Health,
Dr. Neil Levin, Chiropractor

1- Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2009 Apr 17
2-Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2009 Feb;11(1):12-9.
3- Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;14(12):1032-40.
4- May, 2008-Archives of General Psychiatry
5- Am J Clin Nutr 89: 1132-1137, 2009. First published February 25, 2009;
Vol. 89, No. 4, 1132-1137, April 2009
6- Edward Giovannucci; Yan Liu; Bruce W. Hollis; Eric B. Rimm. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Men: A Prospective Study. Arch Intern Med., 2008;168(11):1174-1180