The 2 supplements that I recommend the most are Fish Oil and Vitamin D. Lately, its seems that the evidence for supplemental Vitamin D is mounting at a rapid rate, and I thought it would be appropriate to write about it.
Vitamins are called vitamins because our body’s cannot function without them – they are vital to life. Almost all of them have to be consumed in the food we eat, or we will get deficiency syndromes and die. Vitamin D is different; our primary source of vitamin D is from the sun.
Vitamin D functions as a hormone in the body, which makes it unique from other vitamins. The human body can make it, but unfortunately it needs a little help to be switched on. This is the where sunlight comes in; circulating vitamin D close to the surface of the skin is altered by the sun’s radiation, converting it from D2 to D3, the active form of the vitamin.
The active form of Vitamin D governs the absorption and metabolism of Calcium in the body, and calcium is used by all cells in the body. Thus it allows for proper functioning of the entire body, but in particular the immune system, the nervous system and the skeletal system allowing for strong bones and teeth.
Right now, research is demonstrating that lower levels of Vitamin D are associated with a variety of problems. For instance, experts agree that the increased incidence of Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions at higher latitudes is at least partly due to a lower supply of Vitamin D from the sun. People with darker skin who live in higher latitudes are more susceptable to deficiency because dark skin acts as natural sunblock, and prevents the activation of Vit D. It is no coincidence that people with lighter skin live at higher latitudes.
It’s a catch 22: direct sunlight can lead to skin cancer, and the lack of direct sunlight can lead to more cancer, weak bones, insomnia, dementia, autoimmune disease and who knows what else. I don’t recommend tanning beds because it is too easy to burn your skin with them. Dietary sources of Vitamin D are usually not adequate on their own.
The solution is to either supplement your sunlight or supplement your diet. You would need at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight sunlight on at least 3 days of the week to get it from the sun, and even with that amount you are not guaranteed optimal intake. Because I live in Vancouver, where sun is hard to find in the winter, I recommend supplementation for most patients. Walter Willet from Harvard’s school of public health recommends 1000 IU for all people, regardless of where they live, and he says that the recommendation may increase pending further research. I recommend 1500 IU per day during the dark winter months and 1000 IU per day during the brighter/ sunnier months. When in doubt with your dosage, you can have your blood tested to fine tune your optimal dosage. I shoot for 60-100 pmol/L with my patients.
Supplement 1000 IU – 1500 IU Vit D per day, or ensure > 30 minutes of direct sunlight on 3 or more days of the week.
If in doubt, have your Vit D levels tested to see what your optimal intake is.