As you may know, Vitamin D has been making headlines lately, and for good reason. Scientists are beginning to discover the tremendous health benefits of this long neglected vitamin, and unfortunately, how deficient most people are in it.
If you don’t get much sun, odds are you don’t get enough vitamin D.
African-Americans and others with dark skin, as well as older individuals, have much lower levels of vitamin D due to less creation of the vitamin from exposure to sunlight. A normal African American with dark skin color has a sun protection factor of 15-30. They can stay out 15-30 times longer in the sun, but the downside is that an African American who is dark skinned would need approximately 7-10 times the amount of sun exposure as a light skinned person. If you put a sunscreen on with an SPF of 8, it reduces your ability to make vitamin D in your skin by more than 95%. A sunscreen of 15 reduces vitamin D production by an astounding 98%.
Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 1 billion across all ethnicities and age groups have insufficient amounts of vitamin D in their blood. In fact, the numbers worldwide are almost certainly much, much higher than what’s being reported. Vitamin D deficiency is epidemic throughout the entire United States, through all age groups.
According a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Three-quarters of U.S. teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”. This represents an chilling increase: just 23 percent of 13,369 of those surveyed had a blood level doctors consider sufficient for overall health. The slide was very evident among African Americans: just 3 percent of 3,149 blacks sampled in 2004 were found to have the recommended levels compared with 12 percent of 5,362 sampled two decades ago. This is a genuine health crisis.
“The magnitude of the decline in a relatively short time period was surprising,” says study co-author Adit Ginde, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what the health effects of vitamin D are. There’s reason to pay attention for sure.”
There is a long list of ailments attributed to a lack of vitamin D, including: restless sleep & fatigue; joint & muscle pain; swelling, cramping, or weakness; bad concentration & memory; unrestrained weight gain; obesity; bowel & bladder problems; depression, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD); gum disease & tooth loss; chronic pain & fibromyalgia; parkinson’s & alzheimer’s; arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes; cancer; heart disease; multiple sclerosis & metabolic syndrome.
Ginde, who associates low levels of vitamin D to more common colds, ascribes the increase to greater use of sunscreen and aversion to the sun following public skin cancer-prevention crusades. There are very few sources of vitamin D in our diets. Some food sources are salmon, tuna, mackerel and vitamin D added to milk, but clearly by far the best way for the body to acquire vitamin D is to produce it itself from sun exposure. In fact, “vitamin” D is not technically a vitamin because vitamins come primarily from our food while vitamin D is produced almost exclusively by our bodies.
.What makes things worse is that our diets are deficient in minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, which makes our blood acidic. This is a condition called acidosis, and causes lower levels of growth hormone and increased levels of cortisol. To combat this acidity our body is forced to pull these crucial nutrients from our bones, which decreases bone and muscle mass and leads to diseases such as osteoporosis and cancer, increased blood pressure and abdominal fat. These deficient nutrients are also needed by the body to make and absorb vitamin D. So even though our bodies may be producing enough vitamin D, we cannot absorb and utilize it because we lack the proper nutrients.
It is not surprising then that other studies have shown insufficient intake of vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of fractures, and that vitamin D supplementation may prevent them, especially when vitamin D is taken in conjunction with calcium. It may also help increase muscle strength, which in turn helps to prevent falls, a frequent problem that leads to significant disablement and death in older people.
Magnesium is found in numerous fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, Swiss chard, collards, bok choy, kale, and nuts. Some of the foods most abundant in potassium are bananas and green, leafy vegetables. Exercise also increases vitamin D output and utilization.
Foods which commonly cause acidosis are too much cheese and saturated fats from processed meat, grain-based foods, salt and too few fruits and vegetables. A 3: 1 ratio of fresh produce to protein has been recommended by some, although if your protein is from a healthy source like spirulina then you don’t have to worry so much about ratios as spirulina is a “perfect” food with an almost perfect, nutritionally balanced profile. Fresh produce means fresh, not canned, and frozen is ok but not great.
Clearly, the hysteria propagated by the sunscreen industry, pharmaceutical companies and the US government about the dangers of sun exposure needs to be put into perspective. Some sun exposure, at least 5 to 10 minutes a day for Caucasians and up to 10 times that for dark-skinned people, is needed for optimal vitamin D production. Too much exposure to the sun will not cause the body to produce too much vitamin D. Of course, too much sun exposure is harmful and reasonable precautions must be taken at all times.
The best estimates for minimum daily requirements among cutting-edge researchers is 1-2 grams of vitamin D daily. Blacks should take twice the quantity of vitamin D supplements because they have more melanin or pigment in their skin which also makes it harder for the body to absorb and use the sun’s ultraviolet rays to synthesize vitamin D. People should also take more vitamin D in the winter when sunlight is weaker.