I have recently become fascinated with the research being done on Vitamin D and am shocked to learn how deficient most of us are in this vital nutrient. Vitamin D3, which we naturally produce on our own from exposure to UVB sunlight, has virtually been eliminated from our bodies due to our movement (in the last 30 years) towards avoiding the sun completely or lathering up with sunscreens that block UVB rays from entering our bodies.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder of one of the top online health information resources in the nation, tells us that Vitamin D3 is actually a repair and maintenance steroid hormone that is responsible for the regulation of over 2,000 genes. It is a potent antibiotic that many are saying has the power to treat and/or prevent cancer, upper respiratory conditions, heart disease, tuberculosis, neurological disorders, skin conditions, hearing loss, periodontal disease, muscle pain, insomnia, children born with autism, and both type I and type II diabetes.
According to an article published in The Diabetes Educator (Nov, 2008), which presented findings by researchers from Loyola University Chicago, Niehoff School of Nursing, when adequate levels of Vitamin D3 are reached, diabetes may be preventable or relieved for those already diagnosed. Medicalnewstoday.com and a news release published in Diebetologia (June, 2008) point to evidence that suggests Vitamin D3’s role in insulin sensitivity and secretion. Other research indicates that Vitamin D3 deficiencies may be associated with both type I and type II diabetes, hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. Frank C. Garland, PhD and Technical Director for Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, CA, recently presented research results identifying a relationship between sun exposure, Vitamin D3 production and the prevention of type I diabetes.
Although the research is fairly new in the medical community and adequate Vitamin D3 guidelines are still being debated and developed among scientists, the best way to monitor your Vitamin D3 levels (25(OH)D) is through a simple blood serum test (Mass Spec or RIA) conducted by a laboratory or done through a mail order kit. As there are so many factors that determine the appropriate levels for each unique individual such as age, weight, and current state of health, it’s impossible to generalize dose requirements. Dr. Mercola, who I believe is one of the doctors who has done the most extensive research in this area, suggests an average target of 50-60ng/ml of Vitamin D3 is needed. Please keep in mind that Vitamin D2 is synthetic and is what is often used in fortified foods. Vitamin D2 can actually lower your body’s ability to convert UVB into D3 and should be avoided as much as possible.
Even though supplementation may be the best option for many people, especially for those who can’t produce adequate levels on their own due to physical and/or environmental limitations, the most ideal way to obtain Vitamin D3 is through adequate sun exposure. Unfortunately, most people have been conditioned to avoid sun exposure or use sunscreens to prevent melanoma. What’s important to know is that it is the UVA rays, not the UVB, that are associated with melanoma. Additionally, if you are not burning your skin when you are in the sun, without the use of sunscreen, you are actually decreasing your chances of melanoma and other forms of cancer by absorbing the UVB rays that produce Vitamin D3. Many believe that the toxins absorbed into the blood stream by sunscreen and the prevention of UVB exposure have actually increased the rate of non-melanoma forms of cancer, which are highly more prevalent than melanoma.
Although just one exposure to sunlight can aid your body in producing up to 20,000 IUs of Vitamin D3 with no risk of toxicity, I realize that not everyone is able to get out into the sun on a regular basis. If you do choose to use supplements, according o Dr. Mercola, you may need as much as 3,000-5,000 IU per 100lbs of body weight per day. Again, the only way to be sure that you are taking the right amount, with no chance of toxicity, is to test your blood levels.
Another option is to responsibly use tanning beds. This means that you are using electronic ballast beds that are sanitary and use bulbs with a 10 (UVA) to 1 (UVB) ratio.
Finally, for those who do have regular access to the sun, Dr. Mercola shares with us that we need to wait 48 hours before using soap on our bodies following exposure, in order to allow adequate absorption. Although when I first heard this I thought it sounded impossible to follow through on, using soap in targeted areas and water on the rest of your body following 1-2 sun exposure days per week is easy and doable. You may even notice, as I did, that using soap every day is unnecessary and drying for the skin.
I hope you have found this information useful and will continue to follow the research on Vitamin D as new studies continue to unfold.