Vitamin D has come to the forefront recently as a hugely important vitamin for the human body. This makes it that much more urgent that we follow some simple steps to ensure our bodies are absorbing enough of this pivotal nutrient. Since most Americans are grossly deficient in vitamin D, it is important to spread the word about how to most effectively build your blood levels up.
The first and perhaps most obvious tip for better vitamin D absorption is to make sure you are getting enough UV (sun) exposure. Ideally, everyone would get about 15 minutes of UV exposure every day, exposing most of the body. However, this is not practical since most of us don't live in sunny locations year round.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D obtained from sun exposure, food, and supplements is biologically inert and must undergo two hydroxylations in the body for activation.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone and to prevent hypocalcemic tetany. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts . Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults . Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Many genes encoding proteins that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis are modulated in part by vitamin D. Many cells have vitamin D receptors, and some convert 25(OH)D to 1,25(OH)2D.
In supplements and fortified foods, vitamin D is available in two forms, D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol) that differ chemically only in their side-chain structure. Vitamin D2 is manufactured by the UV irradiation of ergosterol in yeast, and vitamin D3 is manufactured by the irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol from lanolin and the chemical conversion of cholesterol . The two forms have traditionally been regarded as equivalent based on their ability to cure rickets and, indeed, most steps involved in the metabolism and actions of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are identical. Both forms (as well as vitamin D in foods and from cutaneous synthesis) effectively raise serum 25(OH)D levels . Firm conclusions about any different effects of these two forms of vitamin D cannot be drawn. However, it appears that at nutritional doses vitamins D2 and D3 are equivalent, but at high doses vitamin D2 is less potent.
There are two different types of vitamin D available in supplement form – vitamin D2 (also known as ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol).
Vitamin D2 is the type you'll find in most multivitamins, prescriptions, most supplements, and vitamin D fortified foods. It is a patented drug that behaves like vitamin D, but it is not natural. It has been responsible for the vast majority of toxicity reports on vitamin D and should be avoided.
Along with increased risk of toxicity, it has been found to be less than half as effective as natural vitamin D3. It is also suspected of blocking some vitamin D health benefits.
Vitamin D3 is the naturally occurring form of vitamin D in your body and the one you should choose when supplementing.
Magnesium is the probably the most important cofactor of vitamin D, but zinc plays a role too. Magnesium is required to metabolize vitamin D. If you do not have enough magnesium in your tissues, your body will not be able to properly utilize the vitamin D you take.
It is estimated that up to 85 percent of people have insufficient levels of vitamin D and are unaware of their deficient state. While conventional media and medicine promote sun avoidance, doing so can actually put your health in grave danger and cause vitamin D deficiency.
The Role of Vitamin D in Disease Prevention
A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in your body, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout your body.
According to one large-scale study, optimal vitamin D levels can slash your risk of cancer by as much as 60 percent. Keeping your levels optimized can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers. Moreover, vitamin D can build your defenses against cancer by:
- Enhancing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which can replicate and cause cancer)
- Slowing down the production and spread of cancer cells
- Helping in the differentiation of cells (cancer cells are not differentiated)
- Preventing the formation of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones (this can help stop the progress of benign tumors into cancerous ones)
Vitamin D can also help reduce the risk of other conditions as well, including type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness), and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin D also exhibits its infection-fighting abilities in the treatment of tuberculosis, pneumonia, colds, and flu. It can also improve seizure control in epileptics.
While scientists refer to vitamin D as a vitamin, it is actually a steroid hormone obtained from sun exposure, food sources, and supplementation. Common types of vitamin D are vitamin D2 and D3. Compared to D2, vitamin D3 is 87 percent more effective, and is the preferred form for addressing insufficient levels of vitamin D.
The Vitamin D Epidemic in the United States
Today, many Americans are found to be in a serious deficiency state. Over 95 percent of senior citizens in the US may possibly be deficient, along with 85 percent of Americans. The late winter average vitamin D level was found to be about 15 to 18 ng/ml, which is far below optimal levels.
Cases of vitamin D deficiency are also seen more frequently in individuals (of all ages) that have increased skin pigmentation, including those whose ancestors are from Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia.
This deficiency problem also applies to people who often use sun protection, or those who spend more time indoors than outdoors. Regardless of skin pigmentation, deficiency can be even worse if they live in northern latitudes, as there is very little sun exposure (I’ll discuss this in a bit).
The Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 Connection
Another critical point to remember is you shouldn’t take any vitamin D supplement without taking vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 deficiency is connected to vitamin D toxicity symptoms, which includes excessive calcification that can contribute to the hardening of your arteries.
One of the functions of vitamin K2 is to direct calcium to areas in your body where it is needed, such as your bones and teeth. It also functions to keep calcium away from areas where it shouldn’t be, including your soft tissues and arteries.
According to Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, author of Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life:
"When you take vitamin D, your body creates more of these vitamin K2-dependent proteins, the proteins that will move the calcium around. They have a lot of potential health benefits. But until the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits aren't realized. So, really, if you're taking vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. And vitamin D and K2 work together to strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.
... For so long, we've been told to take calcium for osteoporosis... and vitamin D, which we know is helpful. But then, more studies are coming out showing that increased calcium intake is causing more heart attacks and strokes. That created a lot of confusion around whether calcium is safe or not. But that's the wrong question to be asking, because we'll never properly understand the health benefits of calcium or vitamin D, unless we take into consideration K2. That's what keeps the calcium in its right place."
The optimal ratios between vitamin D and K2 have yet to be determined. However, Dr. Rheaume-Bleue recommends that for every 1,000 IU's of vitamin D, you can benefit from about 100 to 200 micrograms of vitamin K2.
Vitamin D – An Excellent Cold and Flu Prevention Strategy
Vitamin D is an amazingly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. So optimizing your levels will not only help send a cold or flu virus packing, it can prevent them from invading your body in the first place. Contrary to flu vaccines, this recommendation has been steadily gaining scientific validation. In fact, there’s compelling evidence suggesting cold and flu may actually be symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, was one of the first to introduce the idea that vitamin D deficiency may actually be an underlying cause of influenza, which would help explain its apparent benefits as a flu-fighter. His hypothesis was published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection in 2006,9 which was followed up with another study published in the Virology Journal in 2008.10 His hypothesis received further support and confirmation when, in the following year, the largest and most nationally representative study of its kind to date discovered that people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu.11
In another study, published in 2010,12 researchers investigated the effect of vitamin D on the incidence of seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Over the course of a year, influenza A occurred in just 10.8 percent of the children in the vitamin D group, compared with 18.6 percent of the children in the placebo group. According to the authors:
"This study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren."
The vitamin D council flu protocol is 2,000iu's per kg of body weight daily at initial flu onset for up to a week.