I started work on an article about sunshine and its role in preventing and treating cancer. There was so much research about the health benefits of sunshine and vitamin D that I’m still digging through it all! While that’s coming soon, in the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to lay the foundation for why vitamin D is so important and look at the multitude of health benefits it provides.

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, has been getting a lot of press lately, and for good reason. While we have always known it helps with bone health as it facilitates calcium absorption, new research is proving that higher levels of the vitamin have an impact on immune health and protect against cancer, heart health, autoimmune diseases, depression, periodontal disease, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

While adequate levels are shown to be protectors against many conditions, low levels, or deficiencies, are now linked to concerns with these same systems and conditions. Studies now show that vitamin D deficiency is rampant and far more pervasive than previously believed.

Many experts say increasing your vitamin D levels may be the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.  And since Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that has been proven in research studies to have health benefits as a standalone supplement, there’s no reason not to! So let’s look at why this vitamin is so important to our health.

What is Vitamin D?

Interestingly, vitamin D is not really a vitamin; it’s actually a group of prohormones. The two major forms are known as vitamin D2, known as ergocalciferol, and vitamin D3, known as cholecalciferol. Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins, which means it is absorbed with the help of lipids (fats) in the intestinal tract. This means that without adequate fat present, the body will not absorb vitamin D. It also means that unlike water-soluble vitamins, which are not readily stored, excess vitamin D can be stored in fat and muscle tissue for future use.

The vitamin D the body receives from food, supplementation or sun exposure is inert and undergoes two reactions in the body in order to become active. The metabolic product created from this process, calcitrol, is a hormone that is said to target over 2,000 genes. That is about 10% of all human genes; no wonder some call it the miracle cure!

A Return to Rickets

Vitamin D deficiency is so rampant now that a recent report in the British Medical Journal revealed the return of a condition common in Victorian times known as rickets. Rickets is a disease affecting growing children whose bones do not harden or set appropriately due to insufficient vitamin D. This once common condition disappeared in developed countries upon discovery that minimal levels of vitamin D would prevent it, but it has now returned.

A new study recently published in the journal Pediatrics here in America revealed that as many as two-thirds of all children are deficient in vitamin D. Among darker-skinned populations the deficiency is even more rampant, with as many as 92% of black children being deficient and as many as 80% of non-black Hispanic children being deficient.

These numbers are based on the new target minimum of 75 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).(Until recently, the standard minimum had been considered 50 nmol/L but many researchers have recently suggested that level be raised.)

According to the Vitamin D Council, however, the recommended minimum vitamin D dosage is actually much higher. They cite recent research that indicates that below 100 nmol/L, the body uses vitamin D up as quickly as it is created. At between 100 and 125 nmol/L, some people begin to store vitamin D, but others do not. At 125 nmol/L, virtually everyone begins to store excess vitamin D in fat and muscle tissue.

The Vitamin D Council considers numbers below 125 to indicate “chronic substrate starvation” and recommends a range of 125-200 nmol/L. (Using these numbers as a baseline, I would venture a guess that virtually everyone tested in that study would be deficient.)

Vitamin D is used to support the immune system and protect against so many conditions that the presence of any health concerns in the body may well warrant a need for an increase in availability. If your body is fighting cancer or heart disease, or looking to recover after a strenuous workout, how much more vitamin D might you need? We don’t yet know those answers, but we can certainly imagine that there might be cases where the body needs much more.

Whether you choose to follow the recommendations of the Vitamin D Council or to be more conservative and follow more traditional guidelines, it is likely that you need to raise your vitamin D levels.

How Do I Measure my Vitamin D Levels?

The only way to reliably know how deficient in vitamin D you might be is to have a simple blood test performed called a 25 hydroxyvitamin D test or a 25 (OH)D. Your doctor can do this easily and most insurance plans should cover it. Many doctors will still consider significantly lower numbers to be acceptable (keeping up with the emerging research can be a full-time job and your doctor already has a full-time job); if so, it will be up to you to share information and partner with your physician to find the right level for you.

If your physician will not test you for vitamin D, you can order a test from the Vitamin D Council on its Web site. You complete the test and mail it back for accurate results (in all states but New York, which prohibits testing of specimens collected in or mailed from New York and prohibits data transmission from the lab to New York physicians or residents.) The test costs $65–or $220 for four if you want to test periodically or test more than one family member.

The tests will tell you your current levels, but from there you will need to figure out how much supplementation you require to get you to where you want to be.

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

Generally speaking, we know that the darker your skin, the bigger you are and the less daily sunshine you receive, the more you will need.

While current FDA guidelines suggest a vitamin D level of 400 International Units, or IUs, per day, many researchers and physicians have increased their suggested optimal adult vitamin D level to around 5,000 IUs per day. I have also seen a formula used that indicates a body needs 35 IUs per pound of body weight, which allows for variance for children and heavier people.

Supplementation at the 5,000 IU level has been shown to bring vitamin D into the desired nmol/L range for many people. But because vitamin D is used to fight cancer, regulate the immune system and myriad other functions, there can be a need for much more depending on what is going on in your body. Some studies have revealed that certain individuals need as much as 25,000 to 30,000 IUs just to reach a consistent rate of 125 nmol/L!

Vitamin D needs are individual and must be customized. That’s why it is recommended that you test in order to be sure your supplementation is adequate for your own body’s needs. It is recommended that you begin supplementation first and consume vitamin D regularly for two to three months before you have your levels tested in order to see how effective your dosing is for you. (If you feel more comfortable testing first, that’s fine. Just know that you may need to test several times in the process.)

Unless your climate remains constant year round, you will probably want to test in summer and in winter to get a sense of the shifts in your body and how the season changes affect your dosage levels. People who avoid the sun as well as those with darker skin pigmentation will likely need to increase their dosage, especially in winter.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

According to the Vitamin D Council, even at the new recommendation of 125-200 nmol/L (much higher than most doctors will be familiar with), those ranges are still very conservative. But because excess Vitamin D is stored in fat and muscle tissue, there have been concerns about toxicity from over consumption.

While we should always be aware of such possibilities–and that is yet another reason to work with your doctor and get tested regularly–the risk of toxicity is much less than previously believed. Because the body is geared to produce very high levels of vitamin D from our daily sun exposure, we have the capacity to absorb very high levels.

Typical summer sun exposure of 20 minutes (without sunscreen and with face, arms and legs uncovered) yields 20,000 IU of vitamin D. We didn’t have sunscreen until recently; our bodies were built to be in sunlight for much of the day (building up our sun exposure to prevent burning of course.) So we are engineered to produce and absorb very high levels of vitamin D. And we also have a built-in safety mechanism: After the body produces about 20,000 IUs of vitamin D, the sunlight, begins to break it down, preventing the body from excess. And once we are tan, the body naturally adjusts and makes less, producing only about 10,000 IUs.

But oral consumption is different: Can we overdose on vitamin D? While pharmacological overdoses of vitamin D2 have been documented, the same is not true for vitamin D3. Research conducted to determine toxic excess in animals revealed that the dose of vitamin D3 it takes to kill half the animals when tested in dogs was about 3,520,000 IU/kg. (Yes, sorry, they did in fact test this on animals.) That is estimated to be about 176,000,000 IUs taken by a 110-pound human.

Leading researcher Dr. Reinhold Vieth suggests that toxicity may possibly begin to occur after chronic daily consumption of 40,000 IUs a day. Clearly there is a great deal of room between the minimum guideline of 5,000 IUs and long-term daily consumption of 40,000 IUs.

Vitamin D Co-Factors

The body needs several substances to utilize vitamin D appropriately. These co-factors include magnesium, zinc, boron, vitamin K2, genestein and a small amount of vitamin A.

I believe many people are magnesium deficient (because calcium and magnesium partner together and so many people supplement calcium but neglect magnesium–I’ll discuss magnesium more in a future newsletter) and because of that, magnesium is an important consideration in vitamin D supplementation.

If you struggle with reaching optimal vitamin D levels after supplementation, a magnesium deficiency could be the reason why. At the same time, as you supplement with vitamin D, any existing magnesium deficiency could be exacerbated.

So paying attention to the co-factors, especially magnesium, is an important component of successful vitamin D absorption.

Walking on Sunshine

The best way to increase vitamin D in your body is through sunshine. Exposed skin in summer sun for 20 minutes will give your body its daily dose. But unless you live in southern Florida, you won’t be able to get what you need year-round from sunlight alone and you’ll need to supplement, at least during winter months. But thankfully, now the the summer season is upon us, exposed arms and legs for 20-30 minutes a day will do the trick for most of us, though darker skin tones may require longer exposure.

Tanning Beds

Tanning beds emit both UVA and UVB rays. However, the body is only interested in the UVB rays for vitamin D synthesis. UVB rays are shorter and affect the surface layers of the skin and as a result, can cause sunburns. The dark tans that come from tanning beds result mostly from UVA rays. Therefore, most tanning salons calibrate their beds to produce mostly UVA rays (often as high as 95% UVA) and minimal UVB.

Not Your Grandmother’s Cod Liver Oil

It is possible to get vitamin D from foods such as salmon (wild sockeye is best; not farm raised), mackerel, herring, sardines and catfish. But a standard portion of these foods will only yield about 250-350 IUs, so you’ll have to eat a lot!

Grandmother’s remedy of a tablespoon of cod liver oil is a highly effective form as well; it yields 1,360 IUs. (Many companies now flavor the oil with lemon or orange so that the taste is not like what you might remember; my kids will even eat it and they can choose between oil and pill form.)

Choose a brand that has been tested and found to remove contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, which can be present in fish.

Cod liver oil, however, also contains vitamin A, another fat-soluble vitamin that some suggest has toxicity concerns at high doses. I believe that in time research will show that–similar to vitamin D–high doses of vitamin A from natural sources are safe. For now, if you have concerns about excessive vitamin A, rather than quadrupling the dosage of cod liver oil to get to 5,000 IUs, you’ll want to consider D3 supplementation through pills, sprays or oils.

Studies show that vitamin D2 is only about 20%-40% as effective in supplementation as vitamin D3. Many over-the-counter vitamin D supplements–and virtually all prescription forms–contain vitamin D2. But D3 (cholecalciferol) is widely considered to be a more effective source, so read the label carefully.

And don’t be afraid of 15-20 minute breaks in the sun without sunscreen (we’ll talk about the myth that it will cause skin cancer in another article).

Your body has existed in the sun for many many thousands of years. We are built to synthesize sunlight safely in small doses.) You will feel energized and renewed and many systems in your body will be thankful.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.nehealthadvisory.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


Greetings from India! I spent some time around Delhi, saw the Taj Mahal, and am now on my way to Rishikesh, a beautiful town in the Himalayas along the banks of the Ganges, for the International Yoga Festival. This newsletter will be short and will include a few tips until I can write more. If I have internet access, I’ll post on the New England Health Advisory Facebook page while I’m there!

This first tip is one that has come up a few times over the past weeks. A woman at one of the gyms I teach at mentioned it (thanks new subscriber Barb!), and then it came up again when I had lunch with two subscribers (shout out to Steve and Audrey!). So while I know many of you may know this, the fact that it keeps coming up tells me that I need to share it you because many of you may not know.

Did you know that one of the worst things you can do in a restaurant is to have a drink with a lemon or lime in it?

In addition to being heavily sprayed to prevent spoiling, the way they are stored (I’ll spare you the details!) and the number of people who handle them without washing hands from storage to service, make them full of germs. When you drop them in your drink, all the germs and chemicals are released into the liquid. So while I love lemon or lime in my tea or drink, ask for it on the side and squeeze it in yourself instead of letting it float in your drink!

Did you know that Pepsi is launching a brand new soda-for-breakfast beverage disguised as juice? Basically, it’s Mountain Dew with caffeine but it has 5% juice, just enough for Pepsi to be able to label it as a juice. In case soda for lunch and dinner isn’t enough, now you can begin your day with what Pepsi is calling “the ultimate ‘pick me up’ that satisfies all day long.” And because it’s considered juice, it’s eligible for inclusion in school cafeterias!

Did you know that one of the most important minerals you may not be getting enough of is magnesium? We hear all about calcium, but calcium and magnesium are ideally ingested in a 1:1 ratio, in other words, in equal proportion. But we get added calcium in milk, cheese, juice and many other products. Most of us cannot offset that with an equal amount of dark green leafy vegetables and other good sources of magnesium like nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

I’m going to write more about magnesium soon, but its responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body including heart health, bone strength and blood sugar regulation. And that’s just three of its jobs!

While I think most everyone can benefit, if you are older, diabetic, have heart concerns, drink a lot of alcohol, have hormonal imbalance, or trouble sleeping, you especially may benefit form magnesium supplementation. I get some in my whole food multivitamin, but I take extra every day. And if I have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, I take an extra 2 before bed. One study estimated that almost all of us are magnesium deficient so if you eat lots of calcium or supplement with calcium, be sure to balance it out with some magnesium as well.

Did you know that a new petition has been filed with the FDA to allow milk producers to add aspartame (yes, that’s right! The same artificial sweetener we read about recently that is responsible for 75% of all food additive complaints to the FDA that has been linked to numerous detrimental health conditions) to milk products WITHOUT having to list it on the label. That means it can be in milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy products that you – and your children – consume WITHOUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE.

I’ve included a small part of the petition below so you can read for yourself their argument that doing so will promote milk consumption in children and reduce childhood obesity by replacing the high fructose corn syrup with aspartame. (Interesting that without admitting it, they are saying that it’s not the flavored milk that’s the problem, it’s the current sweetener, high fructose corn syrup.) Despite the fact that aspartame has been proven to increase weight gain along with all the other health concerns it poses, they want permission to use it freely in dairy products without your knowledge. What is most concerning is the targetting of innocent children with this toxic chemical through school lunch programs.

Even though it has not been approved yet, this yet another reason to avoid ANY product that says low calorie, fat-free, reduced fat, or low sugar. What you lose in a few calories is made up with chemical concerns far worse than the sugar (and even more likely to cause weight gain, the very reason most people are choosing it to begin with!)

Read more about the petition below:

Specifically, the petition requests that FDA amend § 131.110(c)(2) to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener in optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk. [1] The petition also requests that FDA similarly amend the standards of identity for 17 other milk and cream products. Those standards (hereinafter referred to as the “additional dairy standards”) are as follows: Acidified milk (§ 131.111), cultured milk (§ 131.112), sweetened condensed milk (§ 131.120), nonfat dry milk (§ 131.125), nonfat dry milk fortified with vitamins A and D (§ 131.127), evaporated milk (§ 131.130), dry cream (§ 131.149), heavy cream (§ 131.150), light cream (§ 131.155), light whipping cream (§ 131.157), sour cream (§ 131.160), acidified sour cream (§ 131.162), eggnog (§ 131.170), half-and-half (§ 131.180), yogurt (§ 131.200), lowfat yogurt (§ 131.203), and nonfat yogurt (§ 131.206). The petition asks that the standards of identity for these products be amended to provide for the use of any safe and suitable sweetener in the optional ingredients. [2]

IDFA and NMPF request their proposed amendments to the milk standard of identity to allow optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk (e.g., chocolate flavoring added to milk) to be sweetened with any safe and suitable sweetener– including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame. IDFA and NMPF state that the proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products. They state that lower-calorie flavored milk would particularly benefit school children who, according to IDFA and NMPF, are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school. As further support for the petition, IDFA and NMPF state that the proposed amendments would assist in meeting several initiatives aimed at improving the nutrition and health profile of food served in the nation’s schools. Those initiatives include state- level programs designed to limit the quantity of sugar served to children during the school day. Finally, IDFA and NMPF argue that the proposed amendments to the milk standard of identity would promote honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace and are therefore appropriate under section 401 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 341).

The petition acknowledges that the use of non-nutritive sweeteners in optional characterizing flavoring ingredients in milk is allowed under the existing regulatory scheme, with certain additional requirements. The regulatory framework governing the naming of standardized foods that do not fully comply with the relevant standards of identity changed with the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 and FDA’s rulemaking establishing the Agency’s requirements for foods named by use of a nutrient content claim and a standardized term (§ 130.10 (21 CFR 130.10)). Section 130.10(d) allows the addition of safe and suitable ingredients to a food named by use of a nutrient content claim and a standardized term when these ingredients are used to, among other things, add sweetness to ensure that the modified food is not inferior in performance characteristic to the standardized food even if such ingredients are not specifically provided for by the relevant food standard.

Therefore, while the milk standard of identity in § 131.110 only provides for the use of “nutritive sweetener” in an optional characterizing flavor, milk may contain a characterizing flavor that is sweetened with a non-nutritive sweetener if the food’s label

bears a nutrient content claim (e.g., “reduced calorie”) and the non-nutritive sweetener is used to add sweetness to the product so that it is not inferior in its sweetness property compared to its standardized counterpart. However, IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims. Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk–including flavored milk–as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”

As to the additional dairy standards, IDFA and NMPF state that administrative efficiency counsels in favor of similar changes. As long as FDA is dedicating resources to amending the standard of identity for milk, they argue, the Agency should also amend the standards for these products at the same time. They state that it is most efficient to consider all of the proposals together. According to the petition, the requested changes to the additional dairy standards present the same issues as the milk standard, and it is therefore appropriate to consider all of the requested changes together.

Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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