Winter is here. Brrrrrrr! The days are getting shorter and sunlight is growing scarcer, thus our thoughts naturally turn to Vitamin D (if we happen to be nutritionists). There are basically two key areas to focus on in any useful discussion of Vitamin D, which to start with is not actually a vitamin per say, but a pro-hormone that is required by the cells of your body for virtually every process of cellular metabolism. The fact that 1 out of 3 Americans is woefully deficient in this critical micronutrient is nothing short of a criminal offense against Nature. There are many popular myths about Vitamin D, so I shall seek to debunk a few of them in my blog post today.
First off, it is not true that you can get all of your required Vitamin D from the orange dwarf star around which our tiny planet revolves every 365 days. It is true that you can synthesize about half your requirement of this Vitamin via sunlight, which of course is even more challenging at this time of year, when UV is low, unless you’re a guy who happens to work outdoors every day for 8-10 hours without a shirt on, in which case you will have also increased your skin cancer risk, a topic that now brings me to a screeching halt in this discussion, as we take a slight detour to explore the dangers of Vitamin D deficiency versus skin cancer. Let me put it bluntly. You are about 20 times more likely to suffer the adverse effects of Vitamin D deficiency than develop a malignant melanoma as a result of moderate exposure to direct sunlight, i.e. 1-2 hours a day (at any time of year). So do yourself a favor and redirect your sunscreen lotion budget toward the purchase of a good quality Vitamin D supplement, because no matter who you are (even if you do work outdoors all day), you will only be able to get about half your daily serving of Vitamin D from the sun. The other half has to come from your diet or supplements. Also, one particular observation that you won’t hear from the mouths of most conventionally-trained dietitians and nutritionists is that if Vitamin D is ‘Batman’, then ‘Robin’ is Vitamin K (the last vitamin to be discovered), a mostly overlooked but critical biochemical sidekick to Vitamin D, so make sure that your Vitamin D supplement also contains a small amount of Vitamin K.
OK, so now I’m going to bring up some biohacking geeky stuff, for those of my readers proudly wearing a propeller hat! In other words, let’s take a look at how to evaluate your lab work, on the outside chance that your primary care physician is actually astute enough to check your serum levels of Vitamin D at your annual physical (if he or she doesn’t, fire them!). It is vital to differentiate between minimal blood levels of Vitamin D required to prevent Vitamin D deficiency-related pathologies such as bone loss and rickets, as opposed to optimal blood levels necessary for the optimization of health. The conventionally accepted “cutoff” for minimal Vitamin D is 32 ng/ml, but numerous recent studies have established that the most desirable range is actually somewhere between 60-80 ng/ml, widely considered as the “sweet spot” for Vitamin D by enlightened Functional Medicine physicians. It is also very important to keep in mind that Vitamin D is one of the few micronutrients that you also do not want to get too much of due to dangers of toxicity (especially in the absence of Vitamin A supplementation), hence the upper cutoff is 100 ng/ml. To keep one’s level of Vitamin D within that “sweet spot” range, one must supplement a bit more aggressively in the wintertime, as we cannot absorb sufficient Vitamin D from sunlight in the winter, and this also depends on one’s skin tone and where one resides in terms of latitude.
The critical role of Vitamin D as a pro-hormone cannot be overstated! Speaking anecdotally, when I worked as a Clinical Nutritionist, my physician-employer and I uncovered ubiquitous hormonal deficiencies and imbalances in our patients that all turned out to be a direct result of severe Vitamin D deficiency, requiring an aggressive prescription of high-dose Vitamin D and K supplementation, sublingual DHEA and pregnenelone, and increasing dietary cholesterol (yes, cholesterol!). The body is unable to adequately manufacture almost all of its hormones in the absence of sufficient Vitamin D and cholesterol serving as hormonal precursors, an often-overlooked consideration in endocrinology. We found that many of our new patients came to us after years on a so-called “healthy” low-fat low-cholesterol diet, and who had avoided sun exposure like the plague, brainwashed into thinking that they would surely get skin cancer from any amount of sun exposure. Some had Vitamin D levels below 10 nanograms per milliliter, which was about the same level as prisoners of war that had spent years in solitary confinement.
So if you want to get sick and wreck your hormonal health, feel free to do the same as the person in the picture below, while consuming a Standard American Diet (SAD) that is low in Vitamin D!