The Vitamin D Problem, part 1

Up until a few weeks ago, most health professionals felt confident prescribing a minimum of 1,000 to 2,000 mg daily of Vitamin D, and in some cases considerably more. After all, scores of studies have been out for years that link an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency to everything from osteoporosis to cancer. In spite of the fact that there are over 47,000 peer reviewed studies in support of its role in disease prevention, we are now being told that all of this was a big mistake.

A new report, from a 14 member committee convened by the Institute of Medicine  (a non-profit scientific organization,)  has just come out concluding that the claims in support of much higher levels of Vitamin D  are insupportable.  They say that the average American gets plenty of Vitamin D from food and sun exposure, and that supplementing with about 600 mg. per day is sufficient.

Now what? As a primary health care practitioner (I’m a Licensed Acupuncturist,) this matters to me.  What do I tell my patients, who count on me for reliable information?

The issue of Vitamin D supplementation is confusing because a single nutrient approach to health never works, especially when it comes to vitamins. Vitamins function synergistically with a multitude of other nutrients and co-factors that are found in food.  Taking isolated vitamins, especially in the synthetic form found in most supplements, always gets us into trouble.

Take Vitamin D for instance.  Our bodies are designed to synthesize it from cholesterol in the presence of sunlight. The problem is that many of us don’t get regular sun exposure, or we may live in a latitude where the sun is not optimal for Vitamin D synthesis. Thus the proposed need for Vitamin D supplements.

But this is a simplistic approach. According to Sally Fallon of the Weston Price Foundation,  synthetic Vitamin D2, which is found in most fortified foods, has been linked to hyperactivity, coronary heart disease, and allergic reactions, while synthetic D3 is poorly absorbed. And there’s also the problem that to function properly Vitamin D depends on many other fat soluble synergists and co-factors.  Without these it can reach excessive levels and act as a toxin in the body. One of the most important of these synergists is Vitamin A which I’ll talk about in part 2 of this article.

Traditional societies probably had much higher Vitamin D levels than modern populations because they ate foods that are abundant sources of naturally occurring Vitamin D. These included butterfat, eggs, liver, organ meats, marine oils and seafood, particularly shrimp and crab. Unfortunately these are also the foods that are shunned by many following so called “healthy” diets. These largely vegetarian and low fat diets not only lack natural sources of fat soluble vitamins like A & D, but their reliance on cereal grains makes Vitamin D requirements much higher.

So here’s my advice: Eat real food. Eat an omnivorous diet that includes meat, fish, eggs, butterfat, and organ meats.  Supplement your diet with fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures.  (Their website is in the resources section.) Their cod liver oil is the best on the market, is clean and uncontaminated, and best of all has all of the natural levels of Vitamin A & D originally found in the oil. This is not true of other cod liver oils on the market. They usually remove the vitamins when purifying it, and add back in a reduced amount.

For more information about Vitamin D, a good resource is Krispin Sullivan’s book “Naked at Noon: Understanding the Importance of Sunlight and Vitamin D.”

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about the crucial relationship between Vitamins A & D.

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