Reprinted with permission from my book From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Penguin/Avery, 2007).
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming alarmingly common since the misguided medical advice to avoid sunshine (which makes over 90% of our vitamin D). Vitamin D is not only a vitamin, but also an important hormone, with deficiencies causing widespread problems. In fact, vitamin D deficiency in the United States alone:
- Is estimated to cause severe immune dysfunction, causing 85,000 extra cancer deaths a year.
- Increases osteoporosis.
- Increases pain in chronic pain conditions.
- Not only increases osteoporosis, but also the risk of falling .
- Significantly increases the risk of Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes.
In addition to the above, therapy with vitamin D can also improve lung function and help people with asthma, while also decreasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.
Because vitamin D is stored in the fatty tissue (fat soluble) instead of being washed out in the urine (water soluble), it is possible to overdose if you get too much. This unnecessarily scares people away from getting the optimal dose, as even 10 times our current RDA ("Ridiculously Low Allowance") of 400 IU/day for vitamin D is safe (consult your physician if you have an unusual condition resulting in high blood or tissue calcium levels). For those with decreased bone density (see "Addressing Osteoporosis Naturally"), I recommend 2,000-4,000 units a day. Otherwise, 1,000-2,000 units a day is optimal. Most importantly, remember to go for walks and get your sunshine—which is good for you. For optimal health, AVOID SUNBURN—NOT SUNSHINE.
Vitamin D Deficiency Is Very Common
The importance of vitamin D deficiency is finally gaining increasing attention. This nutrient deficiency is critical, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths in the United States each year. Because of this, and the deadly recommendation to avoid being out in the sun without sunscreen that people are given, I am going to cover the importance of this nutrient in depth.
Vitamin D deficiency is common. In fact, a review in the Mayo Clinic Journal showed that approximately 36 percent of healthy young adults and 57 percent of general medicine inpatients in the United States have inadequate levels of vitamin D.59 Vitamin D deficiency is even more common in people with chronic pain.
This problem has increased since skin cancer awareness prompted many to forego sunshine. The misguided advice from well-meaning doctors and media outlets was given to decrease the number of dangerous skin cancers called melanomas—a worthy goal. However, 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from the sun, and the skin cancers usually caused by sunshine (e.g., basal cell cancers) are usually quite benign and easy to address. In fact, most melanomas are not in sun-exposed areas; they develop on skin covered by clothing. It is likely that the increase in melanomas is mostly occurring because of changes in diet, environment and sleep, which are resulting in weakened immune systems. A good rule to remember is to avoid sunburn, not sunshine.
Many other cancers increase in the face of vitamin D deficiency and it is currently estimated that the advice to avoid sunshine is resulting in as many as 85,550 unnecessary cancer deaths each year.60 To give a few examples, increasing vitamin D levels is associated with:
- A decrease in lymphomas and leukemia (malignant white blood cell cancers).61-64
- A 50% decrease in breast and colon cancer risk.65-67
- A lower prostate cancer risk.68
- Lung cancer protection.69
- A 30% drop in ovarian cancer.70
In addition to causing upwards of 85,000 unnecessary cancer deaths each year, Vitamin D, deficiency also contributes to weak bones and osteoporosis. Vitamin D is low in 98 percent of the elderly who break their hip, a major cause of these people losing mobility and therefore being in nursing homes.71,72 And, vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women actually increases the risk of her child developing osteoporosis.73,74
Vitamin D deficiency is wreaking havoc in many other ways as well. It is critical in regulating immune function, and vitamin D deficiency is implicated in Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis,75 inflammatory bowel disease76 and diabetes.77-81 Therapy with vitamin D can also improve lung function and help people with asthma,82-85 while also decreasing the risk of heart disease86 and stroke.87
This leaves the question of what level of supplementation is optimal. I concur with Dr. Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari, from the Harvard School of Public Health who notes "Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D intakes above current recommendations may be associated with better health outcomes. An intake for all adults of (at least) 1,000 IU of vitamin D/day is needed."88,89
A good multivitamin powder has 1,000 units of vitamin D. A supplement that supports healthy bones, which is outstanding to help build strong bones, has 4,000 units/day. The footnotes above can be found in my book From Fatigued to Fantastic! and represent a small part of the research on the importance of addressing vitamin D deficiency.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.