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What vitamin deficiency affects over half our population, rarely goes diagnosed, has connections to many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain, bone loss, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis?
The correct answer would be vitamin D, which actually isn’t a vitamin or nutrient; it’s a hormone produced from a photolytic reaction with ultraviolet (UV) light.
Many of us live in more northern latitudes (in 2017, that would be pretty much anywhere north of Florida), where ample sunlight is not available year round.
Even for those who do have year-round sunlight, many spend most time indoors or slather sunscreen when they go out.
That means most of us are left trying to get vitamin D from our diet.
I prefer patients get nutrition from food whenever possible, but vitamin D presents some obstacles.
Food sources that naturally contain vitamin D are minimal, which is why manufacturers fortify dairy and other food products with it. Some plants contain small amounts of the non-biologically active form of vitamin D, such as fungi-yeast, molds, and mushrooms. The best animal sources are liver, especially from cod, herring, and sardines.
Still, unless we’re eating 30 ounces of wild salmon a day or downing 10 tablespoons of cod liver oil a day (highly doubtful!), we should supplement with vitamin D to get optimal amounts.
One of the obstacles our bodies face to make sufficient vitamin D is age. The average 70-year-old creates only 25 percent of the vitamin D a 20-year-old does.
The government recommends 200 to 600 IUs of vitamin D a day. That amount prevents rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. But that underlies a very serious question: How much vitamin D do we need for optimal health, not just to prevent deficiencies?
Much more than we think.
When my patients reach optimal levels, they frequently tell me how much better they feel. I see major improvements in their health. That’s why I put nearly every patient on vitamin D supplements, which are inexpensive and easy to take via soft-gels or liquid drops.
At the same time, more vitamin D is not always better, and levels that are too high can become toxic. These five strategies can optimize our levels to get all of this workhorse hormone’s benefits.
- Get tested. Before we supplement with vitamin D, we should ask our doctor for a 25-hydroxy test. This will give us an idea of how much we may need to supplement.
- Take the right form. Use D3, but be aware that vitamin D3 is lanolin-derived, so strict vegans should find a lichen-derived D3. To improve absorption, take vitamin D with food that contains some fat, since it is a fat-soluble nutrient. Find plenty of healthy fat recipes and ideas in my book Eat Fat, Get Thin.
- Take the right amount. If we have a deficiency, correct it with 5,000 to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D3 a day for three months, but only under a doctor’s supervision. (We should ideally combine higher doses of vitamin D with vitamin K. Many better supplements combine these two vitamins.) For maintenance, take 2,000 to 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D3. Some people may need higher doses.
- Get rechecked every three months. Since vitamin D is a hormone, it fluctuates for everyone differently. Seasonal changes affect it too. Different “optimal ranges” exist. Ideally aim for levels over 30ng/ml but not more than 80ng/ml.
- Be patient. It could take six to 10 months to “fill up the tank” for vitamin D if we’re deficient. Once this occurs, lower the dose to the maintenance dose of 2,000-4,000 IUs a day. (Again, please confer with a doctor about modifying doses.)
If you have become more aware about the many roles in vitamin D shares in your overall health, do you supplement, get sunshine, and/ or eat vitamin D-rich foods? Share your strategies below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Editor: Emily Bartran