In most of the conversations I’m having with clients about their health and nutrition needs, I’m finding that there is a lot of confusion about supplements.  People have no idea what they should be taking, how much they need, whole food vs. synthetic or even where to go for good information.  There are so many conflicting opinions and studies out there that even someone who is well read in health and nutrition, has a hard time sorting thru it all.

The questions I get asked the most are regarding Vitamin D.  And rightly so.  No other vitamin has more conflicting information out there.  Our goal today is to clear up some of the confusion.  In fact, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all.  It’s a multi-functional pro-hormone.  Meaning, it’s a precursor to what makes a hormone.  Most people probably already know that Vitamin D helps build strong healthy bones, but that’s only part of the story, and a small part at that.  In fact, vitamin D is essential for all around good health.

In study after study, Vitamin D is showing itself to be one of our most important resources for a healthy life.  Especially in 4 key areas; bone health, respiratory health, cancer prevention, and resolution of chronic low level systemic inflammation which not only contributes to auto-immune diseases such as diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis and even irritable bowl syndrome, it also is one of the primary causes of heart disease.

Adequate vitamin D levels are just as important for children, as they are for adults.  Just recently, the journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism have found that children with low levels of vitamin D, especially when overweight, are at a much higher risk of developing insulin resistance that progresses to full blown diabetes by early adulthood.

In another study published in the Cambridge Journal of Medicine, it was discovered that vitamin D deficiency predisposes children to respiratory diseases.  An intervention study conducted showed that adequate to optimal levels of vitamin d reduces the incidence of respiratory infection in children.

When deciding to supplement with Vitamin D there are a few things to consider.  First, make sure you are supplementing with Vitamin D3.  D2 is a synthetic form of Vitamin D and has little bioavailability, meaning it is not readily absorbed by the body.  D3 or cholecalciferol, has a high bioavailability, is much more stable and has a longer duration of action.  When it comes to your health, hands down Vitamin D3 is a major contributor.

Second, it is helpful, but not critical, to know what your Vitamin D blood level is before you start supplementing.  Your doctor can order a 25hydroxy blood test along with your routine blood work up and this test will give you an accurate level reading.  Dr. Wilcox very often orders the 25hydroxy blood test for patients and finds that most of her patients who do not take Vitamin D3 supplements have critically low levels. In fact, most people living in the northern hemisphere do.  We are far from the equator, we spend very little time in the sunlight when it’s warm enough to do so, and even when we do get out in the sun, we slather on high level sunscreens which block a whopping 97% of our skins ability to convert sunlight into Vitamin D.   It is very safe to start with 2,000 IU per day until the blood test can be performed.  If the results warrant an increase, go right ahead.  Consistent, optimal dosage is the only way to increase and maintain healthy vitamin d blood levels.

And third, the time of year influences how much supplementation we need.  During the fall, winter and early spring, shorter days, indoor living and less sunlight means lower levels of vitamin D in the blood naturally.  In fact, some research has shown that it may be these low blood levels that contribute to seasonal effective disorder and even depression.

So, how much do you need to take and what are optimal blood levels?  This is where we stray slightly from conventional “RDA” standards.  Depending on your blood levels you should be using anywhere from 2,000 IU to 10,000 IU daily.  That may sound like a lot but it’s not.  Vitamin D toxicity concerns have been grossly exaggerated.  Especially when you consider that 30 minutes of sun exposure over most of your body, like when sunbathing, can produce upwards of 50,000 IU of vitamin d.

Blood levels below 30 ng/ml are critically low.  30-50 ng/ml are adequate.  50-75 ng/ml are optimal for maintaining health and 75-100 ng/ml are optimal levels if you are treating cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other life altering conditions.

It takes a good 6 months of consistent supplementation in the higher ranges, 5,000 to 10,000 IU, to see a significant increase in your vitamin D.  Once you have achieved what is optimal for your unique body and circumstances, daily dosing in the lower ranges, between 2,000 and 4,000 IU, should be sufficient to maintain your healthy blood levels.

There are also a few foods that are high in vitamin D naturally.  Cod liver oil, wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and porcini mushrooms will all help to keep your vitamin D at a healthy level.

By Helene Geigelman