Why we need Vitamin D

Malgorzata Sypien, M.D., FAAFP, Integrative Family Practice, Chicago IL

In our Integrative Family Practice we believe it is really comes down to our relationship with the sun, the sacred source of all life on this planet.

Why does The body need vitamin D?

  • It assimilates calcium and other minerals into bone matrix.

  • It maintains a viable immune system.

  • For brain health and memory function.

  • For emotional balance.

  • For protection from many types of cancer, including breast cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer.

  • For prevention of hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Please remember that plants are not the only creatures capable of photo-synthesis. We are too. Plants make carbohydrates out of sunlight, whereas we make Vitamin D. Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin and then sent to the liver and kidney for processing. As long as those organs are working fine, and as long as our skin receptors can absorb sufficient quantities of direct sunlight, our bones get nourished, our hearts get nourished, and our immune systems get supported.

The questions you should be asking yourselves are:

Am I getting adequate Vitamin D from sunlight? Am I living in a geographical area of low light? Do I rarely go outside? Am I preventing absorption through the skin by use of “sunblocks”, (many of which also contain carcinogenic ingredients)? Are my liver and kidney not functioning well enough to process the Vitamin D I receive through the skin?

How Do I Know If I Am In A High Risk Group?

Several groups of people will have difficulties metabolizing adequate levels of D:

  • People over fifty and especially seniors. As we age, the skin receptors that transform UV-B light into Vitamin D weaken.

  • Persons of color and darker skinned white people. Ironically, melanin in the skin will protect you from harmful UV light, but will also slow down your absorption of D from UV-B light. This means that darker skinned people actually need more sun exposure than fair-skinned people to manufacture Vitamin D3.

  • Persons with liver, kidney or metabolic disorders, whose bodies are not able to fully process and metabolize D3.

  • Persons taking pharmaceutical medications that interfere with Vitamin D metabolism.

What is the Difference Between D2 and D3?

D2 is a synthetic form of Vitamin D that is added to many common foods, such as milk. It is metabolized differently and does not guarantee the same protection as oral D3, which is naturally derived from fish oil. Also, dietary intake of excess Vitamin D2 may be dangerous. Studies have indicated toxicity of Vitamin D at levels higher than 100ng/ml However, all these studies have been done on Vitamin D2, not D3. Toxicity associated with high dietary intake of D3 has not been demonstrated.

Which Common Foods Have High Levels of D3?

Organ meats, animal fats, eggs, fish oils, especially cod liver oil. Vegetarians, and those people consuming a low fat diet may be depriving themselves of dietary sources of Vitamin D3, and ironically predisposing themselves to diseases such as cancer and heart failure, especially if they are not receiving enough, consistent UV-B light from the environment

Which Test Should I Get Done?

According to the Vitamin D Council, a non-profit entity dedicated to curing the country’s epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency, there is only one viable test: it is the 25(OH)D blood test, aka. the 25-hydroxy-vitamin D test and that is what we perform at Integrative Family Practice Office routinely. If you already have some signs of hypertension or cardiovascular disease, a high normal reading is what you should be aiming for (70-100 ng/ml). If you are free of cardiovascular problems, you want to aim at the mid-normal range of 50-70 ng/ml. The Vitamin D Council recommendation is to take a minimum of 5,000IU of calciferous (Vitamin D3) daily, especially for those of you with hypertension or other cardiovascular symptoms.

What If I Am Getting A Lot Of Good Sun Exposure?

If you live in an area or latitude with good all year round sun exposure.
If it is summer and you go in the open adequately and receive and process enough UV-B through the skin.

If you do not fall into one of the risk groups (elderly, darker skinned people, those with metabolic and organ disorders, those with cardiovascular or neuro-degenerative disorders) you may not want to supplement with oral D3 during summer months. The best way to know for sure is to have your blood levels tested.

Absorption Co-Factors

Dr Sypien emphasizes that nothing in the body is simple or “separate” . Everything is holistic.

Absorption of Vitamin D depends upon several co-factors. Think of these as co-workers, or as collaborators. For bone health, vitamin D needs adequate levels of the following co-workers: magnesium, zinc, boron and Vitamin K.

As we age, we want to maintain strong bones and flexible arteries. We don’t want the calcium going to the wrong places (joints, arteries etc.)  We want the right amount of calcium in the right places only and for proper organization and assimilation of calcium, we require adequate levels of Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2.  Vitamin D3 helps our hearts and arteries from lining themselves with calciferous deposits, and helps protect us from developing dementia or stroke.

Should I Also Take Extra Calcium?

We need adequate Vitamin D3 to organize and assimilate our intake of calcium in the right places. For this we need either adequate sun exposure or supplementation. We also need the right amount of co-factors (as mentioned above), plus sufficient levels of stomach acid to absorb calcium for what we eat.

If your blood tests show that you are NOT deficient in Vitamin D, then you ought NOT to be exceeding 1,000 mg calcium in supplements daily as it may be dangerous. That is, the excess calcium may be deposited along your arteries or joints, leading to arthritis, diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Unless you are clearly deficient in Vitamin D, it is very dangerous to take more than 500 mg daily of supplementary calcium, and this amount should always be balanced with an equal amount of supplementary magnesium.