Vitamin D

by Jan Simpson

I just finished shoveling a path through a foot of snow on my walk, envious of friends and family who fly south or southwest toward their winter homes chasing the sun. For centuries, the sun has been worshiped for its therapeutic and life-saving properties, and today there is renewed energy in the medical field about Vitamin D and its potential healing powers. Sunlight is nature’s source of vitamin D, essential to bone health, that researchers believe may play an important role in the prevention of some cancers and other health ailments. To learn more, I attended a medical conference for primary care providers organized by the Marino Center for Integrative Health. One of the speakers was Dr. Michael Holick, PhD., M.D., a professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center whose thirty-year career has involved extensive research of Vitamin D and its benefits. According to Dr. Holick, Vitamin D plays a critical role in the prevention of certain cancers such as prostate, pancreatic and colon; and the prevention of depression, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. An energetic speaker, Dr. Holick led us through a rapid-fire history of Vitamin D deficiency and current clinical findings, captured in his book, “The Vitamin D Solution, A Three-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem.”  If you have time, watch a video of his entertaining presentation Dr. Holick on YouTube

Among the findings:

1. Vitamin D receptors are found in every tissue and cell in our body and play an important role in cellular health.

2. With adequate amounts of sunshine, your body can make sufficient Vitamin D even when you’re 90 years old.

3. Excess Vitamin D is stored in body fat and released as needed through winter months in northern climates, where sunlight is too weak for the skin to manufacture Vitamin D between October and March.

4. People with very dark skin, especially those of African descent, find it difficult to make vitamin D from limited sunlight. The CDC recently reported that 42 percent of African American women of childbearing age are vitamin D deficient by the end of winter.

Dr. Holick recommends sensible sun exposure, noting that vitamin D made in the skin lasts at least twice as long in the blood as vitamin D ingested from diet or supplements. Acknowledging the concern about sun exposure and skin cancer, he recommends exposing arms and legs, two to three times a week, for 10-30 minutes (depending on skin type and latitude) between the hours of 10am and 3pm before applying sunscreen. For example, a white adult exposed to sunlight in June at noon for 10-15 minutes on a Cape Cod beach would take in 15,000-20,000 IU of Vitamin D.

The growing numbers of people taking supplements to boost Vitamin D levels has raised concern among experts at the Institute of Medicine, who recently updated the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for Calcium and Vitamin D, emphasizing that most American already receive enough of both without taking supplements. For women 51 and older, the RDA of Calcium is 1200 mg (upper limit 2000 mg) and the RDA for Vitamin D is 800 IU (upper limit, 4000 IU); men between 51 and 70 require the same Vitamin D level but have a slightly lower Calcium requirement, 1000 mg. Read more here.

Several clinical studies are underway nationally to test the role of vitamin D in cancer prevention and heart disease. These studies may confirm what snowbirds have long known about the dreary winter months: head south.

Do your older loved ones spend adequate time outside in the sun?

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