Last time (part I) we discussed the role vitamin D plays on bone health, cancer, and tuberculosis, and immune function. In part II, we’ll cover everything else you need to know about why vitamin D is important for achieving optimal health.
In a recent meta-analysis, individuals with the highest concentrations of vitamin D had up to a 43% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes as those deficient in vitamin D .
The effects of vitamin D on the cardiovascular system are the result of several factors:
- First, vitamin D improves the health of the kidneys. The kidneys which play a key role in the prevention of high blood pressure, the removal of cardiotoxic metabolites, and reduction in force needed by the heart to push blood through the system.
- Second, Vitamin D reduces calcium buildup in the blood. Calcification of the coronary arteries leads to coronary artery disease (CAD).
- Finally, Vitamin D interacts with the immune system to prevent chronic inflammation in the arteries and eventual cardiovascular disease.
A Bit of Chemistry
The majority of vitamin D is produced in the skin (when exposed to the sun) after a reaction of a cholesterol based precursor known as 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is then converted to cholecalciferol, otherwise known as “vitamin D3”. This chemical then travels to the liver to be converted to calcidiol, which is the precursor to “active vitamin D”. Calcidiol then circulates the bloodstream awaiting activation.
Depressed? It could be S.A.D.
It’s easy to become vitamin D deficient if you don’t get outside enough or if you live in a climate affected by seasonal changes to sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common condition experienced by people living in far northern, or far southern climates and is directly related to vitamin D deficiency through a lack of sun exposure. Read my blog post here (link).
Can you get Vitamin D from you Food?
We get most our vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but we also get this fat-soluble vitamin from food! Vitamin D comes from foods like:
- Animal livers
- Plants and fungi*
Obtaining vitamin D through the diet is not as simple as it sounds, however, especially on a plant-based diet. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D according to the Institute of Medicine is 600 IU for adults .
Foods like alfalfa and mushrooms are notoriously high in this trace nutrient, but are still in fairly short supply. Chanterelle mushrooms for example contain about 60-125 IU of vitamin D per 100g . This number depends on how much sun exposure the mushrooms have received.
The most reliable way to receive dietary vitamin D, especially in those on a plant-based diet is to supplement.
*A Word about plant-based vitamin D: The structure of plant-based vitamin D is referred to as vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol. Studies have found this dietary vitamin D to have the same effect within the human body as vitamin D3 . This means that individuals experiencing seasonal vitamin D deficiencies can effectively supplement with plant-based vitamin D to avoid any side effects of a deficiency. There are many different brands supplying supplemental vitamin D, but the best ones will contain either ergocalciferol, or cholecalciferol. These chemicals are fat soluble and will usually come in a gel capsule containing an oil to better improve absorption, and increase the shelf life of the supplement.
Vitamin D Blood Tests
The most reliable vitamin D test looks for calcidiol (25-cholecalciferol), which is the form of vitamin D found in the blood.
Conventional standards suggest an acceptable lab result is anything over 30 ng/mL. This number came from a collection of studies done between 1988 and 1994 identifying that patients with calcidiol levels below 30 ng/mL were more likely to report upper respiratory infections than those above .
We consider this range far too low however, as those with vitamin D levels near 30 will be at an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and lowered bone health. Conventional medicine would interpret any result above 30 to be within range and is unlikely to take any measures to bring vitamin D up.
The ideal range for calcidiol in our clinic is considered to be between 60-90ng/mL. Anything lower should be supplemented with vitamin D to bring into the healthy range. To achieve this level, we recommend supplementing with 5000 IU daily and testing your blood every 6-12 mos.
Top 9 Benefits of Vitamin D
- Maintains healthy bones and teeth
- Protects the body from cancer-related gene mutations
- Protects the heart
- Regulates calcium levels in the bones and blood
- Supports the immune system
- Protects the brain and nervous system
- Improves the absorption of zinc, magnesium, and calcium
- Protects the lungs by decreasing the symptoms of asthma
- Protects the body from autoimmune disorders
The importance of vitamin D in maintaining health cannot be understated. This hormone-like vitamin has a long list of important roles in the body. Making sure the circulating levels of vitamin D are within the 60-90ng/mL range can go a long way in preventing both acute and chronic illnesses in people around the world.
- DeLuca, H. F., & Suda, T. (1969). Current progress in the study of vitamin D–discovery of active vitamin D. Tanpakushitsu kakusan koso. Protein, nucleic acid, enzyme, 14(12), 1068.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.
- Mattila, P. H., Piironen, V. I., Uusi-Rauva, E. J., & Koivistoinen, P. E. (1994). Vitamin D contents in edible mushrooms. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 42(11), 2449-2453.
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- Ginde, A. A., Mansbach, J. M., & Camargo, C. A. (2009). Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Archives of internal medicine, 169(4), 384-390.
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- Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine, 59(6), 881-886.
- Parker, J., Hashmi, O., Dutton, D., Mavrodaris, A., Stranges, S., Kandala, N. B., … & Franco, O. H. (2010). Levels of vitamin D and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas, 65(3), 225-236.