Advice Column, Health

Vitamin D – Are You Getting Enough

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“I have never seen any medical diagnosis as widespread and so profoundly affecting peoples’ health and well-being as the current epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.”  — Dr. Soram Khalsa, M.D.- ‘The Vitamin D Revolution‘)

At a seminar held for the Association for Nutritional Therapy in Cape Town a while back, we learned that most South Africans, even those who do spend plenty of time outdoors under our powerful sub-tropical sun, are vitamin D deficient. I decided I had to put this somewhat incredible statement to the test. Being a sun worshipper who spends a lot of time in my garden, if I proved to have low vitamin D levels, then I would have to believe that most South Africans have. So I took myself off for a blood test for 25-hydroxyVitaminD (or 25(OH)D), the only reliable way to know what your levels are. Well blow me down! In the middle of our South African summer I only just made it into the 50-75 ng/ml range, recommended by Vitamin D experts. Apparently one needs to be in this range to really benefit from the protective or therapeutic properties of Vitamin D.

Well now I understand why there is such a hoo-ha about vitamin D deficiency being at the root of a plethora of modern day degenerative diseases. Needless to say 2000IU per day Vitamin D3 was immediately added to my supplement regime and 6 months later, mostly Winter months, I’m thrilled to report that my level had risen to 71 ng/ml. Remember the new school of thought is that the right time to expose your body, without sunscreen, to direct sunlight is when your shadow is shorter than your height. Well have you noticed this is never the case on a Winter’s day? Not even at midday. So taking vitamin D supplements in Winter seems to be non-negotiable. I would have preferred to simply eat more Vitamin D rich foods however it is extremely unlikely one can get enough from one’s diet. Apparently two servings of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines or mackerel would have to be consumed every day. Most of us would have to resort to canned fish which is definitely not ideal.

There is a ton of research which links higher levels of vitamin D (and/or increased sun exposure) with reduced risk of a range of conditions including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, several forms of cancer (including skin cancer), arthritis, heart disease and depression. Ha! and we thought vitamin D was only good for keeping healthy bones and teeth!

Who can expect to have low vitamin D levels? The elderly, anyone who does not get enough sun exposure and people who have cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis or suffer from depression. Also if you are prone to chronic fatigue, memory loss or dementia, joint, muscle and back pain, muscle weakness, bone fracture and falling risks, it can do no harm to have your vitamin D3 levels checked. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are at considerable risk of being deficient, which puts the child at risk too of future health problems. For teenagers suffering from depression a simple vitamin D deficiency may be the cause. In a recent study vitamin D supplementation in depressed teenagers resulted in increased well-being, improvements in depressed feelings, irritability, tiredness, mood swings, sleep difficulties, weakness, concentration and pain.

If you decide to go for the 25-hydroxyVitaminD blood test and don’t know what to do with the results please seek advice on the appropriate vitamin D dose to supplement for your particular circumstances. It all depends on your starting level, how much sun exposure you are able to get and your present health profile and diet. Most people will need more than the generally recommended 400IU daily intake. Vitamin D supplementation is safe, however overdosing, although unlikely, can result in toxicity, so, if in doubt, rather seek professional advice. It is also very important that you take a D3 supplement as opposed to D2.

If you really think about it, disease is much more likely to be due to a deficiency in some vitamin/mineral complex than in a deficiency of a drug.

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