Vitamin D gets its day in the sun

Every Vitamin gets its 15 minutes of fame.

Vitamin C got a serious boost from Linus Pauling, such that people still think that a megadose (a gram, instead of the recommended 75-90 milligrams) of the stuff will keep a cold at bay (not so much, but it will make your urine quite fluorescent and expensive – do it regularly and you could get kidney stones.  So don’t).

It was widely believed that Vitamin E was the savior of all scourges: Non-toxic (mostly) and an antioxidant and curer of all ills (especially heart disease), it was the vitamin of the hour until it was found that you could indeed overdo it (especially if you’re on blood thinners) and worse, in supplemental form it looks like it doesn’t prevent heart disease after all (so you can stop downing one with your burger and fries).

Turns out that the best way to get vitamins is when they’re delivered by actual food (usually fruits and vegetables) where they are more likely to play a role in disease prevention because of the mix of other beneficial plant chemicals along for the ride.

Now Vitamin D is the new sexy hot vitamin that’s going to save the world.

Vitamin D is a bit of a freak.  It’s not present naturally in a whole lot of food (it’s in fatty fishes like tuna, sardines and herring, otherwise it’s added to milk and breakfast cereals), but we can make it under our skin using cholesterol (yes, cholesterol, the baddie).   Unlike other vitamins, it acts a bit like a hormone.

Scientists know we probably need more Vitamin D than is currently recommended, and that many of us are deficient even under the current guidelines (200-600 IU).  However, and you won’t see this until at least the 10th paragraph in every article – Vitamin D can be toxic.  And there’s the rub.  Too much of it can cause calcium deposits in otherwise soft tissue – with resulting pain and/or tissue damage.

If you take a vitamin, you usually know how much you have swimming around in there.  But if you can make some of it, how much more do you need?  And how much do you make?  Ten minutes in the sun for the average white person without sunblock should do it.  If your skin’s a little darker (naturally), it might take a few minutes longer, and if you have very dark even longer than that.  (And, do you live in a place where the sun makes regular appearances all year long?)  Do you count the time in the car with your hands on the steering wheel, or more skin exposure?  How much skin matters, I’m guessing, and all these articles probably have dermatologists, who have beaten us over the head for years to avoid the sun, cringing.  Because too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer.

Ah, the delicate balance.

So what is Vitamin D and why should you care?  We store the vitamin in our fat cells (it’s fat soluble).   It regulates our blood calcium.  That means that it takes helps put it on the bone if you consume enough calcium, and helps take it off  the bone if you don’t.  We need calcium in our bloodstream because without it we can’t contract our muscles or clot our blood.

But it also seems that Vitamin D plays a significant role in healthy cell development, and that’s why it may be an important part of decreasing cancer risk.

The issue we face right now isn’t whether the recommended amount is adequate because most of us aren’t getting that much now.  The research so far indicates that people with deficiencies in the vitamin are more likely to develop diseases (including Type 1 Diabetes in children) than those who get the current recommended amount.

For infants the AAP currently recommends a supplement of 200 IU of vitamin D per day, (always check with your pediatrician before giving an infant anything!), starting at 2 months of age.  If the infant is on formula, or switches to formula, this becomes unnecessary.

My advice? If you don’t drink milk or fortified soy milk, take a calcium supplement (500 mg or so) with Vitamin D (100 IU or so).  Get a little sun, eat right, don’t overdo.

Darn, that pesky common sense thing again.

Hungry for more?  National institutes of health dietary supplements web site on <a href=”http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp”>Vitamin D</a>

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