Vitamin D offers a host of benefits
“Yes, Virginia, Vitamin D by direct skin exposure to the sun (taken in short bursts) delivers powerful healing benefits to more than just the bones of the body!”
An old-fashioned term used for any one substance that supposedly delivers many different positive benefits and wonderful things for different parts of our bodies …. e.g., “preventing and/or curing many forms of diseases or illnesses must surely be … ‘snake oil'”!
However, many so-called “snake oils” often receive different reviews when one learns about the scientific studies and documented attributes of such a substance.
Take the amazing capabilities of vitamin D. It brings a long history of being able to aid in the healing of a variety of woes, an amazing variety of woes. And, it is one of those substances that has successfully gone through the rigor of scientific studies and proven to deliver on the many different health benefits proclaimed by its beneficiaries and supporters.
In one of my previous columns, I discussed osteoporosis and reported on studies pointing to an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, due to previously insufficient dosage recommendations in our daily food or supplemental intake of vitamin D. We learned that studies have shown that treatment with higher doses of vitamin D improves muscle strength, reduces muscle pains and helps maintain bone integrity, thus reducing falls and fractures and having a significant preventive or early intervention effect in the disease of osteoporosis.
Incredibly enough, that’s only part of what this little molecule can do. It also reduces inflammation seen in gum disease, decreases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases (in which a persons immune system attacks parts of his or her own body), reduces the risk of diabetes, acts to promote the production of cathelicidin, an antibiotic-like molecule (manufactured in our own cells) that reduces the risk of infections such as influenza and tuberculosis.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, long before the development of antibiotics, putting people in TB solariums for rest and exposing them to simple sunlight successfully treated TB. Recently, with outbreaks of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, scientists in Indonesia gave tuberculosis patients higher doses of Vitamin D (10,000 I.U./day), leading to a 100 percent cure rate.
Scientific studies have also demonstrated a beneficial link between vitamin D intake and the prevention of different forms of cancer. A study in 2005 showed that intake of an additional 1000 international units of vitamin D daily reduced an individual’s colon cancer risk by 50 percent and breast and ovarian cancer risks by 30 percent. There is also evidence that higher levels of vitamin D slow the growth of prostate cancer.
So, just what is Vitamin D and how does it behave differently than other vitamins?
Actually, true vitamins are substances we need to take into our bodies (usually via food and supplements) because our bodies require them, but are unable to make them.
Therefore vitamin D is only partly a vitamin because our bodies can manufacture it when our skin is exposed to certain ultraviolet wavelengths of sunshine. Adequate amounts of vitamin D-3 , with its formidable healing abilities, can be made in the skin after only 10 to 15 minutes of exposure (at least twice a week to face arms hands or back without sunscreen) to ultraviolet light wavelengths that are present in sunlight at sea level when the sun is more than 45 degrees above the horizon. This occurs daily within the tropics or during the spring and summer season in temperate regions and almost never in the Arctic Circle.
Given the variation in sunshine exposure in different parts of the world (and with different seasons), we have a limited capacity to make vitamin D naturally. Therefore, it is considered a conditional vitamin. Once vitamin D3 is taken in or made in the skin, it travels to the liver and kidney where it is changed to make the active form 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D.
Now, this is where it gets interesting because activated vitamin D actually acts like a hormone. It travels by the bloodstream to target organs where it attaches in the nuclei of cells and influences the genetic production of proteins from these different target cells. This is how it delivers a positive effect on the immune system functions (by attaching to white blood cells,) as well as creating the effective absorption of calcium in the intestines, etc.
A few recommendations by scientists studying the important role of vitamin D and its healthy benefits include: Get your Vitamin 25-OH blood level tested and seek to get it to around 80 by sunning yourself (oh, what a lovely pastime) for short periods of time (see above), eating foods high in vitamin D and/or taking supplements to boost your level up and maintain it up there. Natural sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, fatty fish, mushrooms, whole egg and yeast.
The latest addition of Scientific American has a special article about vitamin D and the astoundingly varied ways it functions in our bodies.
I highly recommend this article for more details and graphic illustrations for those interested in learning more about this powerful, natural, healing substance, the likes of which, would never be seen in the company of such unsavory substances as snake oil!
Winni Loesch, MD, FAAFP, has practiced in the region since 1997. She works with Amethyst Medical Group Inc. in Grass Valley, 271-2333.
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