Photo: Leo Reynolds
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
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
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.)
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?