Vitamin D Intake & Health Benefits

Approximately 42% of all people living in the U.S. are prone to vitamin D deficiency and its associated health risks according to the Nutrition Research journal. The chances of survival can be further aggravated with serious conditions such as breast or prostate cancer. It is not clear why there is a connection with low levels of vitamin D and poor health and experts are having second thoughts on what the recommended levels should be. For example, the Institute of Medicine’s current recommendation of 600 IU for men and women on a daily basis is now thought to be too low. Jeol Fuhrman, author of ‘Super Immunity’ and MD says it should be about 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day to achieve the optimal blood levels of 28 to 42 ng/mL which is needed to reduce the risk of disease. He advises people to get their vitamin D levels checked regularly by their doctors.

Some of the health risks associated with a vitamin D deficiency include the following.

  1. Cancer mortality rates increase. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that people with higher levels of vitamin D when they are diagnosed with cancer tend to live longer and have a greater chance of remaining in remission longer than patients who are deficient. Every 10-point increase in vitamin D levels was associated in a 4% increase in survival rates among cancer patients. The strongest chances of survival were linked to lymphoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Breast cancer patients with healthy vitamin D levels are twice as likely to survive their illness as those with lower levels according to the Anticancer Research journal.
  2. Depression. According to the ‘British Journal of Psychiatry’ who did a study involving more than 31,000 participants, people with low levels of vitamin D in their blood were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression. This is because the hippocampus and other parts of the brain involved in regulating moods contain vitamin D receptors so low levels may inhibit their ability to function normally according to researchers.
  3. There is a greater prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with vitamin D deficiency. There is an increased risk of 53% of developing dementia with moderately deficient levels of vitamin D and a 125% increased risk for people having a severe deficiency according to a study in Neurology.  The increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease is almost the same at 122%. The risks are enhanced with advancing age which can lead to both the development of cognitive problems and the skin becoming less efficient in converting sunlight into vitamin D.
  4. There is a 32% increased risk of coronary artery disease compared to people with normal levels of vitamin D. There is also a 20% increased chance of contracting a severe form of the disease, affecting multiple vessels according to presentations made last year at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session. Because vitamin D may improve immune function and control inflammation, there is less risk of heart trouble with sufficient levels of the nutrient.
  5. Life expectancy rates are lowered according to an analysis of 32 studies published in The American Journal of Public Health. People with less than 30 ng/mL were at highest risk from dying from all causes.
  6. It could speed up the severity and progression of multiple sclerosis because there is an increased risk of neuromuscular disorders according to JAMA Neurology. Researchers found that that people suffering from the early stages of multiple sclerosis with adequate levels of vitamin D had a 57% lower rate of new brain lesions and a 57% lower relapse rate than those with low vitamin D levels. Researchers have reported that boosting vitamin D intake can enhance the effectiveness of certain therapies like interferon beta-1b.
  7. Men are 4 to 5 times more at risk of contracting aggressive prostate cancer if they have low vitamin D levels according to a study in Clinical Cancer Research journal. It is not yet known though why.  Screening for vitamin D deficiency is an essential part of cancer care.
  8. There is an increased likelihood of psroriatic arthritis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the joints causing pain and inflammation. A study by Arthritis Care & Research revealed that up to 62% of people with psoriatic arthritis have insufficient vitamin D. This may be in part because vitamin D deficiencies may make inflammation worse by increasing the white blood cell level count.
  9. The risk of developing pneumonia increases by 2.5 times according to researchers at the University of East Finland. As mentioned above, the immune system can get compromised which leads to an increased risk of contracting respiratory illnesses.
  10. People are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

We have established what vitamin D deficiencies can do to the body. The question is how then to bolster levels of it to reduce the likelihood of the above conditions?  There are three main ways of getting the nutrient –, sunlight, diet, and supplements. Baring your skin to sunlight, especially during summer, exposes it to ultraviolet B rays. Exposure to the sun is only required for around half the time it takes for the skin to redden and start to burn. How much vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight depends on the time of day, the location, and the colour of an individual’s skin. The more skin exposed, the more vitamin D obtained.

With regard to diet, the chief sources are from the following foodstuffs:

  1. Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon.
  2. Egg yolks
  3. Cheese
  4. Beef liver
  5. Foods fortified with vitamin D like dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.

Supplements are the easiest recourse to ensuring that one gets sufficient levels of vitamin D, especially when there is a lack of sunlight or if there are problems eating or obtaining the right foods. Vitamin D3 is the best and comes in a number of different forms, including  tablets and capsules. It does not matter however what form they are taken in or at what time of the day.