human, being

You’re probably short on Vitamin D too

Today, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver published a study that indicates about 75 percent of Americans have serum Vitamin D levels that fall well below what is needed for optimum health. I’m one of them. I know this, because a year ago, as I was trying to figure out why I felt like crap, couldn’t lose weight, and had all sorts of other mystery symptoms, a doctor decided to test my serum Vitamin D level via a blood test.  The result: 11 ng/ml.

The jury is officially out about what the optimal serum Vitamin D level should be–ranging from 40 to 80 ng/ml–but consensus is the bare minimum you should have in your blood is 30 ng/ml.

Since then, I’ve been taking 4,000 IU of Vitamin D daily, plus 50,000 IU twice a week. Even on these high doses–your normal multivitamin gives you about 100 IU, although some new recommendations show adults should get as much as 1,000 IU a day–my serum levels have barely reached 38.

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because the best way to introduce it to your body is through direct, unscreened sunlight on your skin. I am a survivor of Stage IIb melanoma, and since 2001, I have been incredibly diligent about not getting sun on my skin. I wear long sleeves, hats and SPF 50 when I’m going to be out in the sun. When I told my onocologist last year what my Vitamin D levels were, and that my internist suggested that I get at least an hour of unprotected sun exposure during the week, he flat out told me no.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin. It plays a critical role in your immune system, and therefore in your ability to fight off infection. Here’s what Vitamin D does:

  • Protects children from rickets, a bone disease
  • Protects adults from low bone mineral density–aka osteoporosis and osteopenia
  • Probably protects against some types of cancer; research shows a link between low vitamin D levels and colon cancer, for example.
  • Probably protects against heart disease.
  • Probably protects against infection.
  • Probably improves overall health.
  • Improves depression and seasonal affective disorder.
  • Improves general muscle pain. Research at the University of Minnesota concluded that “because (low calcium) is a known cause of persistent, nonspecific muscuoskeletal pain, screening all outpatients with such pain for (low vitamin D) should be standard of practice in clinical care.”

Why are so many people Vitamin D deficient? Sun avoidance, sunscreen use and spending more time indoors compared to 100 years ago.

Since I’ve been taking high doses of Vitamin D, here’s how my health has changed:

  • My IBS symptoms have all but disappeared. IBS used to rule my life, and it turns out that low Vitamin D aggravates IBS symptoms. Funny that the GI specialist who diagnosed me never thought to check my Vitamin D levels. Had he done so, I would have not suffered for three years.
  • The nightly leg cramps, especially in my calves, are gone. No more restless leg syndrome.
  • I can actually build muscle again.
  • I stopped gaining weight.
  • I had strep throat only once, vs three or four times in previous years.
  • I had two colds that made me miss work, as opposed to a handful in previous years.

For years, I had attributed these symptoms to being hypothyroid. Once I got my TSH level around 1, I should have felt better. But it wasn’t until I got my Vitamin D level up into the 25 range that I actually started feeling better.

The UC Denver researchers suggest that 10 to 20 minutes of daily unprotected sun exposure on the arms and legs can help remedy Vitamin D deficiency. That’s because the hormone is produced with UVB rays hit a layer of cholesterol in the skin. That cholesterol is converted into D3 (the active form of Vitamin D). UVB rays are also what causes sunburn, so if you go into the sun with sunscreen on, your skin can’t create Vitamin D. And research in melanoma is showing that it’s the UVA rays that do the DNA damage that create skin cancers. Wearing UVB sunscreen allows you to stay in the sun longer without getting burned, allows UVA rays to damage your skin and keeps your skin from making the hormone that is critical to your immune system and can protect you from cancer. What’s more, melanoma research is also leaning toward the idea that early, frequent sunburns in childhood lead to slow development of melanoma.

So does this mean I’ll be back to laying out with baby oil on my fair skin for an hour a day, or going to the tanning salon? No. If you’re out in the sun long enough to get burned, chances are you’re out long enough to do some DNA damage as well. Here’s what I will stop doing:

  • I will stop wearing SPF makeup
  • I will stop wearing sunscreen on a daily basis unless I’m expecting to be out in the sun for prolonged periods of time
  • I will go outside during lunch as much as possible to get a little Vitamin D
  • I will get my skin checked every 6 months so that if anything does look unusual it can be taken off
  • I will protect Lauren from sunburn by keeping her out of the sun during the hottest part of the day

So, next time you go see your doctor, ask for a blood test to check your serum Vitamin D level. Be part of the 25 percent of the population that isn’t deficient!


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Could it be possible that the melanoma consumed the vitamin D? Do you have any vitamin D tests from prior to the diagnosis?

Comment by Brent

I don’t have any Vitamin D tests before 2008, unfortunately. Vitamin D has been proven to be an immune system booster, so it would be surprising to me if the melanoma “ate” my Vitamin D.

Comment by humanbeingblog

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