Vitamin D: The New Panacea for All Medical Disorders?

Undoubtedly you've been bombarded by all the new vitamin D recommendations from the National Institutes of Health, the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Association, and the list goes on and on. This is by far, not a complete list of medical organizations that are jumping on the band wagon telling us that the current recommendations are "grossly inadequate."

So who do you listen to? Do you base the recommendation on a particular medical disorder you have and the corresponding associations that make recommendations for that, or do you make your decision some other way?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, people over the age of 50 should take 800 to 1,000 International Units (IUs) of D3 a day and those under 50 should take 400 to 800 IUs daily for osteoporosis. According to the National Institutes of Health the recommendations are 200 IUs a day for those under 50, 400 IUs a day for those over 50 and 600 IUs for those over 71. Many vitamin D experts feel this amount is grossly inadequate and recommend amounts up to 2,000 IUs a day unless you are on a therapeutic dose, then the amounts vary from 5,000 to 50,000 IUs and beyond depending on patient scores. This therapeutic dose is prescribed by a physician if you're extremely deficient in D or have a metabolism problem that prevents the proper absorption of this supplement.

Are You Deficient in Vitamin D?

To find out if you are deficient in vitamin D, the doctor will order a test called 25 (OH) D that tests the levels of D in your body. This test is the best indicator of vitamin D levels and is generally ordered twice a year, at the end of summer and the end of winter. The timing of these tests isn't written in stone, so your doctor may order them more often or at another time of year. This test will tell you if you are vitamin D sufficient, insufficient, deficient, or at toxic levels; so when you have this test, check your score and ask your doctor what's the best amount to take a day to raise your levels back to sufficient.

What Are the New Reference Ranges For a Vitamin D Test?

  D Sufficiency   D Insufficiency   D Deficiency   Toxic Level
  31-100 ng/mL

10-30 ng/mL

<10 ng/mL

100 ng/mL

(Reference Ranges from Westcliff Medical Laboratory, Inc. 2009)

Check with your local lab to verify these ranges because they vary from lab to lab due to individual population studies.**** _

Why Is Vitamin D so Important?

Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption in the gut and maintaining adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone and prevent hypocalcemic tetany. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis, according to the National Institutes of Health (Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D 2008).

Other Health Problems Treated With Vitamin D

  • Breast Cancer

  • Cancers

  • Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes

  • Heart Disease

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Chronic Pain

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

(For a full list of medical disorders treated with Vitamin D, see the Mayo Clinic on D

Should You Take Vitamin D2 or D3?

Most professionals agree that vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is superior to D2 (ergocalciferol) since it's the active form of D that we get from skin exposed to sun or from some foods. Foods that contain D3 are mostly different types of fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fish oils. D2 comes from plants, and fortified foods; like milk and fruit juices or you can take supplemental D2 in form of a vitamin.

With all the varying recommendations, it's difficult to decide what to take. Discuss this with your doctor, based on your vitamin D test results, and go from there so you'll know what is relevant for you. Vitamin D levels don't go up overnight, so give yourself some time to obtain the results you desire.

Additional Resource Links On Vitamin D At Health Central:

Question for our Members:

How much vitamin D3 are you getting and how are you getting it? Is it primarily from supplements, food, or sun? Let us know how you are doing with this, and if you've seen improvements on a particular amount of vitamin D, and how long it took to reach your goal.

Pam Flores
Meet Our Writer
Pam Flores

Pam wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Osteoporosis.