May 27, 2009

Oh Boy, Another Exciting Vitamin D Lecture!

So since the last post I wrote was about dead whales, I'm thinking it's probably time to return to a health-related topic. Perhaps even remind you about a crucial nutrient you may not be getting enough of?

But useful information is so boring! So at the end of this post I'll be sure to educate you about one method of getting Vitamin D post a beefcake photo of a nearly nude Italian mens soccer team. Because that's just the kind of informative public service pathetic pandering you've probably come to expect here at Cranky Fitness!

And yeah, I know we've posted about Vitamin D many times before, because, well, it's good for you. But lately the research on just HOW good it is for you keeps piling up. (Or put, another way, the evidence about how screwed you are if you don't get enough D is getting scary). Yet unfortunately, most people either haven't gotten the message about how crucial Vitamin D is, or they've blown it off because we get 97,000 other health warnings every week and it gets hard to pay attention to them all.

However, as it happens, both Women's Health and Health Magazine, two magazines I like to steal information from read, did round-ups on Vitamin D this month. So I thought, heck, with so much information on hand, I'd stick a bunch of it all in one place.

Because as the Women's Health folks point out, over 2,000 genes are regulated by vitamin D. Apparently D is one bossy vitamin! Michael Holick, a Vitamin D expert from Boston University, adds that "it affects cell death and proliferation, insulin production, and even the immune system."

Here are some specifics; most of it comes from the Health Magazine Vitamin D article. (And sorry I don't have links here to the actual studies. That would require a lot of additional googling and I'm too busy because I have, like, 6 glasses of milk to drink and a big honking plate of salmon to eat! And I better hurry because I think I need to do work in a few hours of nude sunbathing before it gets too dark. Or something like that. I may have read it all a little too fast. But anyway, Health Magazine is pretty reliable about fact-checking their research, so I'm trusting 'em on this.)

So why should you try hard to get enough vitamin D? Because it can:

Lower Your Heart Disease Risk
People with the highest D levels had up to a 50% lower risk of heart disease, while those with the lowest had a 62% increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. It's thought that vitamin D helps lower blood pressure and regulates hormones affecting blood vessels and heart muscles.

Help Prevent Cancer
A vitamin D researcher at UCSD, Cedric Garland, says “we could prevent 150,000 cases of cancer annually if we could just increase vitamin D to optimal levels.” Research suggests sufficient vitamin D reduces risk of breast, colon, prostate, and ovarian cancers. For example, women with high D blood levels had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest blood levels.

Cut Risk of Multiple Sclerosis and other Autoimmune Disorders
In a study out of Harvard University, researchers found a 40% lower risk of MS in women who took a daily supplement of at least 400 IU of vitamin D. There is also research to suggest that vitamin D might lower risk of other autoimmune disorders too, like rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. And vitamin D might even lower inflammation in healthy folks as well.

Fight Colds and Flu
One study indicated that women who took 800 IU of vitamin D daily were three times less likely to develop colds or the flu. And women who got 2,000 IU reported even fewer symptoms.

Improve Mental Health and Brain Function
Raising vitamin D levels seems to increase serotonin, which helps regulate mood and fights seasonal affective disorder. It also seems to help neurological function, keeping your brain sharp as you age as opposed to a big mushy mess.

Assist with Appetite Regulation
Low levels of D mess with leptin levels, which in turn screw up your "I'm full" signals--which can lead to Serious Cupcake Abuse. It's somewhat of a vicious cycle, because overweight folks have more difficulty using vitamin D, because excess fat can absorb vitamin D, making it unavailable.

Build Strong Bones
You need vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus, which will help prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. And you don't want either of those or you're going to have to go on TV like poor Sally Field and talk up medications like Boniva. (Perhaps if she'd been the "Walking Nun" or the "Running Nun" or the "Jumping Nun" instead of the "Flying Nun" she'd have higher bone density? OK, now all the young folks who never watched Sally Field in the Flying Nun probably think I'm having a psychotic break from insufficient vitamin D. But I swear, it was a real show.)

See? I didn't make it up.

So, You Think You're Getting Enough D?

Most people aren't getting enough for optimal health, especially those living in northern latitudes who can't get enough from sunshine.

Sure, the RDA is only something like 200-400 IU, depending on how old you are. But the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 400 to 800 IU if you're under 50, and 800 to 1,000 IU if you're older. But many experts are raising the bar even for younger folks, and suggesting up to 2,000 IU for optimal health. (On the other hand, other sources like the Mayo Clinic consider 2,000 as an upper limit, because taking too much Vitamin D can cause health problems).

Probably the best thing to do is get your blood levels measured and find out if your levels are low, normal, or awesome. Apparently more than 75% of us lack the awesome amounts that help fight disease. Then once you know where you stand, adjust accordingly.

Apparently those of us who live at latitudes above 37 (hello, Minneapolis, Boston, and San Francisco!) are at more risk of deficiency. However, the UCSD expert guy interviewed in Health thinks “every woman should consider getting checked.” (Why not men? I missed that part. Perhaps because the expert figured all the men were off reading Men's Health instead?)

So How Do You Get More Vitamin D?

Good natural food sources are oily fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna. There are also lots of fortified foods like milk, fruit juices, soy milk, and some cereals and yogurts.

Take a supplement
Normally, experts are all "Don't take pills, just get all your nutrients from real food" but in this case, the advice seems to be much more supplement friendly. Perhaps because lack of D is such a big deal. Make sure it's D-3, which is metabolized much more easily than D-2.

Get some sun
Yeah, skin cancer is definitely a concern. But more experts seem to be suggesting that the health trade-offs might favor a bit of sun exposure, especially if you're careful. So you should go easy, avoiding midday sun, and keep it to 10 minutes or less per day.

And, um, sunscreen or clothing will interfere with the process, so you may want to bare some skin!

(And yeah, this Italian soccer team is in the locker room where it's hard to absorb much vitamin D... but let's just pretend they're going outside dressed like that, ok?)

Does Crabby Get Enough D?
I don't know! I sometimes skip the sunscreen on my legs on early morning runs (even though that exceeds the recommended 10 minutes, but whatever). I also drink a lot of milk and take a Vitamin D supplement. So I hope I'm ok.

Do you folks worry about D, and if so, do you do anything about it?


  1. Im the queen of ADORING the feel of sun on my skin (I know. I know) so U really do time myself and get the full 8 (see? Im a little cautious :) I dont do 10) minutes out there just CHILLAXING and basking.

    then I slather again head to toe as living where I do one is always in danger of being scorched.

  2. I drink milk (in my coffee, cereal, and with cookies at least!) and still take my prenatal, so i think I'm good on the recommended intake..... and I'm not very good about using sunscreen on days where my exposure is house-car-store.. but now i'm wondering how much of that vitamin D is just being sucked up into my fat and staying there!!

  3. I too am a milk drinker and try to find sun time as much as I can.

    Now Crabby, I remember when Sally Field played Gidget oh so many years ago, so of course I remember when she played Sister Bertrille.

  4. OH, did you ask us something.. I was still looking at the soccer team pic!!! :-)

    I live in sunny southern CA so I get my sun & probably too much! I try to get 10-25 minutes without sunscreen & then the sunscreen goes on. Was not as diligent way back when with the sunscreen so I have to now!

    I have read lots & lots on D so good that you are bringing it up again. People tend to read but not follow thru so the more ya tell them then maybe one day they will do it!

    Now, back to the soccer team!!! Yup, I am married but I am not dead! I can still look!

  5. On the neurological end, I heard that researchers may be finding a link between vitamine D deficiency and Parkinson's. But, that's prelim research and heresay at the moment. Something to think about.

    I know several people that got tested and found that they are deficient. I know I probably don't get enough. Just started with a multivitamine again, and drinking more milk though.

  6. I use goat milk in my coffee and soy milk/almond milk/what-have-you for cereals. Ironically, a side effect of Vit D3 is rapid and/or irregular heartbeat. Can't recall which it is right now.
    I am just contrary enough to not use sunscreen unless I am out of the country and even then I tend not to.
    "The Flying Nun" was one of my fave shows. Thanks for the trip down the memory flight path.

  7. Blood tests showed my vitamin D was pretty low so I started taking supplements a couple years ago. Only take them in the winter...which here in Vermont lasts most of the year. Doses I take are pretty big but I do it under dr supervision.

    Think it's a pretty important vitamin. As most of them likely are. Hope the others are easier to get with food 'cuz I'm really not good usually at taking supplements.

  8. I don't drink milk because it upsets my tummy and I burn really easily in the sun, so I try to be careful of wearing sunscreen. I do take a supplement though, so I'm hoping that helps.

  9. Fortunately I live in a sunny part of the world (most of the time... Cape Town in winter can be a bit dreary), so I get mine from the sun. I try to spend at least 20 minutes per day in the sun (not during the harshest time of the day) without any creams or lotions. There are many, many health benefits attached to this.

  10. I feel like Vitamin D is the latest in a long line of vitamins that the experts say we need to get more of, but in a few months, the research will come out that it's not as good for you as they said.

  11. Living so far north as I do and also being the sunblock queen, I take a D supplement. Although I have to say that I thought I'd feel differently once I started taking it - I was positive I was deficient - and yet I've been on it for several months and no change. Hmpf. Some studies say the liquid drops are better absorbed than the pills but they're so pricey! And this is how I wile away my free time... ;)

  12. Here's the one that got my attention: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to infertility. After struggling for over a year to get knocked up without success, I've decided add a calcium + vitamin D supplement to the vitamin(s) I'm already taking.

    I get 1-2 servings of dairy most days, but my beloved Cascade Fresh yogurt isn't vitamin D fortified. That, and the issue of how dairy affects fertility is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

    I also try to spend time out in the sun when weather permits ... but it's been pretty rainy lately.

  13. I've got a column on changing your latitude coming up in a week or so. I've never been a fan of sun bathing, bu I do spend some time outdoors most every day, and get the Big D that way, and I don't mean Dallas :-)

  14. Never really worried about my vitamin D intake because I live in Colorado and I am constantly out running or cycling in the sun (and I assume all the spots I miss with my sunscreen are making enough for the rest of me).

    But then again, I'm cheap and refuse to pay someone to make me a gross pill to eat when I could just get my vitamin for free.

  15. Team ... Italian vitamin?
    I'm sorry, Crabby -- what was today's topic again??
    (You did that on purpose, didn't you? :D)

  16. Living outside of Atlanta, and doing a fair amount of gardening, I have the opportunity to make my own Vitamin D most days. But if I don't get enough sun **and** I do not have any of the fish that day, I take about 1/2 teaspoon of cod liver oil.

    (And I am more afraid of all of the chemicals in the sunscreens that my body would be soaking up than I am the sun, so i don't use them.)

  17. Those statistics regarding heart disease and cancer are just too significant to overlook. Nude sunbathing is not the recommended regimen for us Clevelandites (trust me). But I have started taking the D supplements. But, oh crap, I don't remember if its D-3 or D-2. And did I get the right dosage? Oh crap. So much information. But this is great to know.

    Now, I have to find the best fish oil supplement...

  18. I'd have watched soccer more if they played in those uniforms?

    Ahhhh, what was the question again?

    OMG, my word verfication is UNDE, is that close to undies?

  19. [smug] I'm reading this sitting on the balcony, sunblockless. {/smug]

    I've never seen five men with exactly precisely the same skin tone all over. Are they advertising an artificial tanning solution?

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  20. I am really impressed that Tom can toss off the name of Sally Field's character like that. I'm going to assume that Google was not involved, because that's even more impressive.

    (I could not recall that detail, since I watched the show from my cradle, yeah, that's the story...)

    Um... I wouldn't throw out the sunscreen and protective clothing altogether. Just not use them before 10 or after 6.

  21. Between my biking and walking and lunch/recess monitor job at an elementary school, I'm outside about three hours a day in Sunny California. Plus I love tuna fish. So I don't worry about it.

    Yep, I too am old enough to remember Sister Bertrille. I think "Carlos" was the guy who had the hots for her, in a totally sublimated sort of way, of course.

  22. Vitamin D sure can do it all! I need my hose re-roofed. Does it do that too?

  23. Well, I would kick them out for not wearing sunscreen! What were we talking about? I take about 1200 of "D" daily, I was on 800 and have noticed an improvement in my muscle aches with the increase.

  24. With all the time I spend running outside I was surprised last year that my D levels were low. On doctor's advice I started taking a supplement. Against doctor's advice I stopped using sunscreen on my legs when I run in the early morning or after work if it's late enough(that would be laziness) but I still slather up any other time.

    I'll be annoyed if in 2 years the experts come back and tell us how D causes a whole slew of other problems.

  25. Wow, even more cool things about D I'm finding out down here in the comments!

    Confession: I just had a physical and didn't ask about a D test, probably because the nurse practitioner already thinks I'm a hypochondriacal neurotic. (For example, I think I have borderline high blood pressure but she doesn't.) So it's interesting to discover how many of you are doing what you should and still have low D levels. Oh good, another thing to worry about!

    Also, I must say I'm concerned for poor Nitmos whose "hose" seems to need some fix-up work. Very brave to admit that, sir! Oh... a simple typo; he probably means "house." I think I've gotten too many of those euphemistic spam emails...

  26. I think there's a tie-in between vitamin D and getting your, 'hose' re-roofed. Last I checked, roofers don't wear shirts or sunscreen, so they probably get loads of vitamin D all over... wistful sigh ...

    I still worry about the noonday sun and things like sunburn and skin cancer. And if you escape the burn and the cancer, there's still... FRECKLES!

  27. I didn't worry about it until now - will have to make sure I get some. Vitamin D that is, not Italian Footballers (sigh).

  28. Alright, I know I'm in trouble! I take calcium with vitamin D, but know that after seeing all the studies, that's not enough. I like the sun far too much. I don't particularly like milk. If it's going to help with all the things it says it does, I better up my dosage! I'm getting a serious cupcake craving right now!

  29. I just want to thank you, from the bottom of my predatory cougar heart, for that picture. I pulled an all-nighter at work last night, and I was in a truly evil mood. Until 15 seconds ago.

    As for Vitamin D, I wish I could tell you about all the women (and some men) I see coming through this place with fractured vertebrae or autoimmune disease. And once you get one, there's a virtual guarantee that you'll have more.

    It absolutely won't hurt you a bit to get 1000 units a day, and it could save you surgery, disability and months in the hospital later. And believe me, the Italian soccer team will not be interested in you if you're wearing a truss, ifyaknowwhaitimean.

    Oh, and for the love of crunchy corn chips, take your calcium, will ya?

  30. For 25 years I took 10,000 IU a day of D, until it got hard to find because of tightening regulations. Then my teeth began to hurt and decay at a fast clip.

    Finally I realized what was missing and got more D, and now can chomp down on any crisp apple.

    As a teacher, it is heart breaking to see how D deficiency impacts our kids-- more asthma, obesity, youth-onset diabetes. Plus, if kids want to minimize zits and maximize soccer strength, D is what they want.

    Then there is the benefits of D for protecting against infection, including pandemic flu.

    Nine out of ten Americans are below optimum levels of D. There is an easy, cheap ($40), reliable home blood spot test available from (go to "Join" and choose a one-time test if you don't want one every 6 months).

    The formula that D-savvy docs use calculated that I need 5000 IU a day, based on my weight and the D level I want to achieve. Research shows that 10,000 IU is the top daily safe amount.

    See our website, for lots more info, look in the upper left corner under "Vitamin D".

  31. I tested low on vitamin D in my last blood panel and my MD said take 1200 units daily, then saw my chiropractor who is a sports medicine specialist and health nut, he said more like 2,000 units! :O

    I was also told one needs about half one's body exposed skin wise and for 20 minutes plus to make the daily required dose. Apparently the combination of working indoors and sunscreen is robbing many of us of the ability to make our own D, the "sunshine" vitamin.

    I hate sunscreens, many of the earlier ones had chemicals in them that would actually make me ill about 15 minutes after I put them on! There's one or two I can use now, but I think that speaks to the fact of the chemicals probably not always being such a good idea versus a light long sleeve shirt and hat, for example.

  32. Thank you for the soccer team pic :) Great blog, a little nudge in the right direction on a daily basis. I am about sold on the supplement, especially as it is 62 and raining in our part of the world.

  33. Anotherh Vit D pro: I was listening to Forum on NPR this afternoon and a OB/GYN was talking about vit D's importance in preventing stroke in women with preeclampsia in pregnancy. Apparently prenatal vitamins contain very little D. Who knew?

    Thank you very much for the Italian soccer team photo :)

    And also, how appropriate is it that the secret code to leave a comment today is "vatimen." Vitamin, vatimen? Get it? was funny at the time.

  34. Sorry did you say something? I scrolled straight to the bottom! As soon as the news came out about vitamin D here, experts rushed to tell us (Aust & NZ) to still avoid the sun without the screening except in late late afternoon. I agree with someone above that this vitamin is the darling of the scientific community at the moment and will soon be replaced or they will do a full 180.

  35. I want you to know I scrolled right down to see the men.

    I take a D supplement, 800 of D3 in summer and more in winter! I heard it helps with joints/arthritis so I am taking no chances.

  36. I try to take a supplement in the winter, but now that summer is *finally* here, I much prefer to soak up some rays and synthesize my own vitamin D. I burn easily though so I try to be careful.

    I have to admit to being skeptical of some of the claims I'm hearing about vitamin D. I know the research is there, but I can't help but remember so many other substances that would totally let us live forever if we only weren't all completely deficient! But I figure there's no harm in some extra D in the meantime.

  37. I have a bottle each of D3 and Calcium which I'm supposed to take daily.. and do occasionally. It sounds like I ought to step that up some. Thanks for the reminder.

  38. living in the land of 300 days of sunshine (wooooo colorado!), i don't worry much, though i agree that it's probably one of those things i should get checked eventually.

  39. I started vitamin D3 supplementation at 2000 IU per day about 3 months ago, after I began seeing all the articles and new research results out there. Although not a long sample time, it does seem to bring benefit - my energy level is better and avoid colds and flu.

  40. I was beginning to think that the "Flying Nun" show was just a strange delusion I'd had as a child, since nobody else seems to remember it! It was one of my favorite shows.

  41. I am a huge proponent of getting Vitamin D from a walk. In Houston, Texas we get a decent amount of sun so this works very well for us. Walking also just makes me happy . So, double the benefit!


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