WATCH YOUR MOUTH! The skinny on D

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There’s a lot more talk about this Dynamic Vitamin D today than ever before, not to mention a lot more exposure–it’s all over super market shelves, all over marketing ads, and even all over our annual blood work.  (Gasp–Has Vitamin D become the new Vitamin C?)  You may even be one of the 40 million in 2011 whose Doctor told them to supplement.  Here’s a little more about our Dependable Dynamic Delicious vitamin D to help you decide whether you should get on board.

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What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the 4 fat-soluble vitamins found in our food.  Fat soluble means that whatever the body doesn’t use straight away it will store in fat for later (as opposed to water-soluble vitamins, the excess of which your body excretes with urine.)  Vitamin D is also important for the metabolism of Calcium and Phosphorus, which is why you will often see these 3 things together in nature.  There are many different “forms” of vitamin D, but for us humanoids we really only care about D3 and D2.  Most scientists believe for us the most important and bio-available form is D3.  We can naturally get Vitamin D3 in 2 ways–the sun and through our diet.  

Unfortunately for those trying to get Vitamin D3 naturally through the sun, if you live North of Atlanta it’s practically impossible to get enough unless it’s Summer.  And, if you protect yourself with SPF (which I believe is also important), you’re blocking the Vitamin from coming in.  If you’re trying to eat your vitamin D3 naturally, the only source is….milk?…Cheese?….wrong.  Nope, I’m sorry to say that the ONLY natural food form of vitamin D3 comes from the sea–in the fats of fatty fish.  So, unless you’re very diligent about getting your 10 minutes of sans-SPF sun a day without burning AND good about eating very clean and WILD fatty fish often (click here for an evaluation of vitamin D in fish–like that farmed fish has 75% less vitamin D than wild), you’re going to have to supplement your diet.  Don’t get me wrong: I think you can get enough naturally if you really try, but for most of us it’s not going to happen unless we fortify.

Why do we need it?

Originally, Vitamin D was really only supplemented in folks who had a serious deficiency, to prevent a condition called Rickets Disease.  Then, as we learned more about bones and skin, it was introduced in the regimens of patients with osteoporosis, skin diseases, and kidney failure.  Today, however, we see that there may be quite a bit more to vitamin D than we first thought (perhaps this is why the great universe put this important vitamin in something it thought we’d see every day–in our Sun.)

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Recent evidence suggests that our recommended daily amount of vitamin D (200-600 IUs depending on who you are) may be too low, because even slight insufficiencies in vitamin D are being linked to cancer, obesity, and heart disease.  Smaller studies are showing  that significantly more risk of heart disease exists in those that have the recommended minimums, so many doctors are recommending up to 2,000 IUs of the important vitamin (in D3 form usually).  See a recent study here that shows a strong connection between slightly low levels of Vitamin D3 and sudden death or heart attack.

Besides heart health, it’s now showing great promise in prostate and skin health, as well as boosting immunity, too.  Not surprisingly, it has recently become a common “add-on” to the annual blood panel during a physical. I’ll even admit, even though I live in sunny LA and eat fish 3 times a week–I came up low on my most blood work results… I am writing this blog because I think we might all be at risk for low vitamin D. 

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How do I best supplement?

Well, most orange juices, milks (including soy and almond), and cheeses are now fortified with vitamin D.  However, just like with any processed foods, I’m not convinced all food manufacturers take care to put the highest quality supplements in their products.  And, as you probably also know, supplements are not all created equal (recent studies showed some contained only 9% of what it claimed).  So, I wouldn’t necessarily rely on these foods for my vitamin D.

The other option is to buy and take a supplement. There is a voluntary program these supplement companies can join called the USP, which adds a level of quality verification and control.  I would suggest to first find a brand that has this USP verification mark (sorry, but this ain’t the CVS brand).  Naturemade and GNC are two I can think of off the top of my head that have this labeling.

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As far as how much you can take?  That’s a tough one to answer.  Personally, I think 200 IUs may be too low with all the recent evidence, but I’m not going to claim that 2,000 is where you should be either.  For that, reach out to your Dr or nutritionist for a recommendation.  For what it’s worth, I take 1,000 IUs each day (ok—you got me—maybe 4 days a week) and the levels at my next physical came back A-OK!

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Though I tend to be a more holistic type of nutritionist, when the science is clearly supporting a behavior, I don’t ignore it.  I wouldn’t usually be encouraging people to take a supplement even if their diet was good unless I was sure the benefit outweighed the risk.  With vitamin D, it is becoming clear to me that this is the case.  Maybe it’s because we have become smarter about covering up in the Sun or maybe it’s because we eat less fish: our bodies are tending to have lower than optimal levels of this vitamin than nature intended.  And for most of us, there’s only one way to fix this.  Take your vitamin D.

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Daina Slekys, MS, MPH is a Nutritionist and co-founder of Health-Ade kombucha, in Los Angeles, CA.  EMAIL Daina your health questions and she’ll be happy to help! (daina@health-ade.com)

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