The Vitamin Deficiency that affects Over Half our Population (& is Crucial for Overall Health).

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Image: dan.marv/Flickr

Editor: Emily Bartran

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About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues. Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.


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