Vitamin D Deficiency and Disease

The news on vitamin D is so big that even MDs are jumping on the bandwagon!

It used to be thought that the small amount of vitamin D added to milk products was enough to keep us healthy. But now we know better.

This is a fat soluble vitamin made from cholesterol in the skin as a result of being exposed to UVB light. Yes folks, that means tanning in the sun WITHOUT sunscreen. This means getting out in the sun at the appropriate time of day and for the appropriate length of time to prevent sunburn. Sunburn might lead to skin cancer, but the lack of vitamin D is even more serious to our health.

Osteoporosis or oteopenia are significant problems in this country. Bone is living tissue, constantly changing. If it didn't it would difficult or even impossible for a broken bone to heal. Parts of the blood are manufactured in the marrow and "escape" into the blood from the bone. Contrary to the ads that feature popular celebrities on tv and in magazines, prescription medications are not the best idea. While they make bones harder, they do it by stopping the exchange of minerals. Dead material that the body would naturally discard is held forever in the bones, making it similar to cement. A bone that won't break because it's so hard may be preferable to one that breaks easily, but it's even better to get the body to work correctly to make the bones strong.

Vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus and aids in the absorption into the bones.

A study performed and published by the American Diabetes Association in 2006 showed 60% of the diabetics studied were deficient in Vitamin D. In fact, they displayed increased inflammation and an increased incidence of heart disease with atherosclerosis, more so in the winter.

Additionally, low vitamin D concentrations result in elevations of parathyroid hormone, which has been linked to insulin resistance and syndrome X or metabolic syndrome. These conditions are often precursors to type II diabetes. In fact, it has recently been shown that vitamin D deficiency is likely to be a major factor for the development of type one diabetes in children. Progression of degenerative arthritis of the knee and hip is faster in people and infertility is associated with lower vitamin D concentrations. A deficiency may also be associated with chronic fatigue and depression.

The most successful treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is full spectrum light exposure daily, including UVB rays. In a recent study covering 30 days of treatment comparing Vitamin D and 2 hour daily use of 'light boxes', depression completely resolved in the D group, but not in the light box group.

Now for the even bigger news. Sjogren's Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis and Crohn's disease have all been linked with low vitamin D levels. Multiple Sclerosis has its highest incidence in the US right here in Seattle and is now linked directly to a deficiency. Contrary to popular opinion, we don't have the highest rate of rain in the US, but we do have many cloudy days. That coupled with being pretty far north and our citizens being somewhat afraid of the sun so that they use makeup and lotions to block the sun's rays, we need to find a way to effectively treat this deficiency.

In the US, we have a widely varied climate. But, we are far from the equator, so the sun's rays will always be at an angle that diminishes the effect of the rays. So, we need to get some mid-day sun for anything from a few minutes to an hour most days, depending on your specific location and your skin coloring. Fair-skinned people need much less sunshine than anyone with darker colored skin. The darker the skin, the more exposure you need. You have natural sunscreen.

If you can't get out into the sunshine in the middle of the day, you won't make enough of the vitamin to stay healthy.

Getting sunshine isn't always easy, so the next best thing is using a GOOD tanning bed. Unfortunately, many of them are not completely safe and are not being used in a safe way. The newer tanning units are generally safer than the old and you should never push the time of exposure so that your skin burns.

There are non-tanning, inexpensive home light units that emit UVB rays only. UVA rays cause tanning of the skin, but can also cause burning. UVC rays are the most harmful. Some tanning units emit UVC rays, and your helpful, neighborhood tanning parlor attendant probably doesn't know it.

If you're completely opposed to tanning, you should be taking old-fashioned Cod Liver Oil--Nordic Naturals or Carlson's. There are also some good shark liver and krill oils that are good. Make sure you refrigerate after opening and keep refrigerated to avoid the thing that makes you make that awful face--fishy taste and smell. Cod liver oil is a very light, flavorless oil that often comes with a light flavor like lemon or orange. It's great in salad dressing, or orange or tomato juice. You should only need one teaspoon a day, but never start with that much. Begin with 1/4 teaspoon and build up to a full dose as long as you're not having any gall bladder problems.

Gall Bladder

If all else fails, there are supplements, but they're not all good. Talk to a health care provider with a good background in nutrition and up on the latest information. Do not try to figure it out on your own. You can overdose on fat soluble vitamins and it is difficult to recover from that (others are vitamin A and vitamin E). A simple blood test can be used to monitor the vitamin level to prevent overdose. And you'll feel great!

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