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David's Digest
Health & common sense from the original formulator of OPC Factor

Vitamin D: Could the most important nutrient known to man be right under our skin? And cost nothing?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years you have probably heard or read something about vitamin D deficiency which has been called a global epidemic by researchers.

If you have literally been living under a rock, or any other dark place, it is a safe bet that you actually are deficient in this vital nutrient. In fact, according to the Vitamin D Council, a non-profit organization that educates the public on all things vitamin D, estimates 40% of the world population doesn’t get enough vitamin D.

That sounds like a pretty big deal to me.

But what is vitamin D? And why aren’t nearly 3 billion people getting enough of it?

Considering that a vitamin is a vital nutrient that our bodies cannot produce on their own, its somewhat of a misnomer to call vitamin D a vitamin at all. Vitamin D is actually a steroid which acts much like a hormone. This chemical can be produced by our own bodies when our skin comes into contact with direct sunlight.

Why do I need vitamin D?

There are several reasons why keeping up with your vitamin D intake is a good idea.

Healthy Bones

The most widely-known benefit vitamin D provides the body is its important role in helping the body develop and maintain strong bones. Most people are probably more familiar with calcium’s similar role but calcium, along with the equally important phosphorus, only can be absorbed by our bodies with the help of vitamin D.

So calcium does little to nothing for your bones if you aren’t also getting the necessary amount of vitamin D.

Speaking of bones, the first time vitamin D made headlines was in the early 20th century after discovering that many children in major northeast cities were coming down with a condition known as rickets, or weak bones. This condition causes kids’ bones to become weakened and as a result, deformed or bent due to their inability to efficiently carry the weight of the child.

A doctor eventually linked rickets to a vitamin D deficiency. Shortly after, cod liver oil, known for its high vitamin D content started being administered to kids with rickets with much success.

In 1932 food producers began adding nutrients to certain foods. Thus vitamin D was added to foods like milk, orange juice and some cereals, a process known as fortification And why you see milk containers that read “Fortified with calcium and vitamin D”.

This made the children happy that they didn’t have to take the yucky cod liver oil anymore. It certainly made the cod happy.

While children get rickets, older adults with vitamin D deficiency can suffer from a similar condition called osteoporosis (brittle bones) which is the leading cause of broken bones with elderly folks.

Vitamin D May Help You Live Longer

Aside from preventing children from developing rickets and adults from developing osteoporosis, there seems to be an increasing number of researchers who believe that vitamin D’s importance doesn’t end there, far from it. In fact, healthy bones may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vitamin D’s crucial role in our lives.

Numerous studies have suggested the link between vitamin D deficiency and all sorts of conditions which range from obesity, depression, Type II diabetes and fibromyalgia to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

In fact, if you look for them, you won’t find a shortage of papers, articles and posts online written about vitamin D being a potential preventative agent of cancer.

A paper entitled The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention found on The National Center for Biotechnology website stated that “The majority of studies found a protective relationship between sufficient vitamin D status and lower risk of cancer.”

In an interview with Richard Goldberg, M.D. (Professor of Medicine, Ohio State University, and Physician-in-Chief and Associate Director of Outreach at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center) on cancer.net—a website maintained by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists—said “Higher levels of vitamin D lead to cellular adherence, maturation, and communication between cells, all of which may lower cancer risk…”

And there are many more studies that have arrived at similar conclusions.

However, the National Cancer Institute states that the results from testing are “not comprehensive enough to establish whether taking vitamin D can prevent cancer”.

So as it stands currently, the truth is that while numerous studies have found multiple conditions and diseases such as cancer linked to low levels of vitamin D, the results are still considered inconclusive. Boo!

What happened? Why the epidemic?

What caused us to become deficient in vitamin D is obviously due to ever-changing lifestyle factors. Beginning hundreds of thousands, of years ago up until the last few hundred years, humans spent a lot more time outdoors than they do now. As we moved from the savannah to the fields to the factories to the office we essentially turned our back to the sun and went indoors.

Indoors

We now spend a lot more time under roofs than we once did when our caves or little grass huts were there simply to provide shelter from weather and nocturnal predators. Nowadays it is common to go from our breakfast table to our car to our office and back to our cars, only seeing the sun while in transit. Okay you people with convertibles can just hush. Come to think of it, most of us can’t even exercise without a roof over our heads.

Sunscreen

We all know the fear of skin cancer has been on the rise in the last couple of decades due to the reports we see in the news. The awareness of skin cancer and the consequences of getting too much sun is a great thing, unless it causes people to not get any sun. To some degree, the fear of skin cancer and the over-usage of sunscreen products exacerbated the vitamin D problem, virtually guaranteeing that, at least for some folks, what little time they would spend outdoors was not going to benefit from the good the sun brings to our health.

How do I know if I am deficient in vitamin D?

Currently the best way to check your vitamin D levels is to ask your doctor to have your D levels tested with the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test, also known as 25(OH)D test. It will require a blood sample and your insurance may pick up the tab.

Testing Results Depending on who you ask, the test results mean different things and these are all based on just how much vitamin D you need. The Food & Nutrition Board, the Endocrine Society and the Vitamin D Council recommend anywhere from 600 IU to 5000 IU/per day (More information on various recommendations found here.). While this can seem overwhelmingly confusing on whose recommendation to trust, the key takeaway is putting vitamin D on your radar and prioritizing your body’s need for it.

Ultimately I recommend delving into your own research around vitamin D and implementing a plan for getting it. And I have included some helpful resources at the end of this digest.

How do I get vitamin D?

Vitamin D from Direct Sun Exposure

By far the best method for getting vitamin D is the way good ol’ mother nature intended us to and that is through direct sunlight. According to some sources one should spend 15-to-20 minutes daily in the sunshine with 40% of the skin surface exposed. The problem with this generalization is that it doesn’t take into account a person’s location, time of day or their skin color which all affect how much time one spends in the sun.

Digest Disclaimer: By no means am I suggesting to any reader to go fry themselves in the sun. That will ultimately have the opposite effect you want and you could very well give you a painful burn and open yourself up to developing skin cancer.

Studies have shown that folks who tend to get really sunburned are those who get recreational sun exposure as opposed to chronic exposure. What this means, for example, is that if you avoid the sun 364 days a year and decide to go lay on the beach for a couple hours you will get burned. However, those who get a little bit of sun frequently don’t tend to get burned from a little prolonged sun exposure. This is due to a conditioning of the skin over time.

If you aren’t accustomed to getting sun, have very pale or sensitive skin, please consult your doctor first. And always use caution and common sense.

Vitamin D from Food

Unfortunately meeting the suggested vitamin D intake through diet alone is highly improbable. This is mainly due to the fact that vitamin D is found in very few foods and well below the suggested daily dose per serving.

However, getting a little vitamin D here and there from multiple sources makes it less challenging and ensures that you always get some amount. There will always be rainy days where you won’t see much sun.

Below is a list of foods that contain vitamin D naturally.

Food IUs per serving* Percent DV
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon 1,360 340
Swordfish, cooked, 3 ounces 566 142
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces 447 112
Tuna fish, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces 154 39
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines 46 12
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces 42 11
Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk) 41 10
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce 6 2
This information was originally published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can be found in on the National Institutes of Health website.

Vitamin D from a supplement

Supplements are by far the easiest way to control the amount of vitamin D you take.

Vitamin D3 vs Vitamin D2

Please be aware that there are two forms of vitamin D: D3 and D2.

It’s not necessary to go into a lengthy rant on the scientific differences between Vitamin D3 and D2 other than to say that D3 is from animals and D2 is from fungus and plants. The human body, with direct sun exposure, makes vitamin D3, not D2. The fatty fish like salmon and tuna contain vitamin D3, not D2. Vitamin D3 is thought to be more potent and more beneficial.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking D2, almost all physicians recommend vitamin D3 as being the better choice. The only reason I would consider taking vitamin D2 over D3 would be if you have a religious or moral beliefs that discourage consuming animal byproducts. Other than that, stick with D3.

Oil vs Powder

There is little debate on the best form a vitamin D supplement comes in: oil versus powder forms. As of this writing there is no conclusive evidence that one is much better than the other. Both forms offer the same results.

Enhanced Formula OPC Factor

Lastly, I will remind you that if you are taking the new, enhanced version of OPC Factor (if not, you can purchase it here), then you are taking 2000 i.u. of vitamin D3 per serving. If you take two servings per day, as I know many of you do, you are meeting the daily intake as recommended by the Vitamin D Council.

If you have been taking the Original OPC Factor now might be a good time to try Enhanced Formula.

I will sum this digest up by saying that it would be worth it to get your vitamin D levels tested. Despite the fact that it hasn’t been proven to be a cancer preventer, it has been proven to keep your bones strong and healthy. And from this bag ‘o bones to you, that is reason enough.

Take care,

David

Resources on vitamin D

Vitamin D Council
http://www.vitamindcouncil.org

National Institutes of Health
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/

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David Pillott

Who is David?

David Pillott was the brainchild and original formulator of OPC Factor. His passion and commitment to promoting better nutrition serves as the inspiration behind every David's Digest we publish.