Appreciating Vitamin D

By Dr. Frank Aieta, N.D.

What if I said I know of one treatment that could lower your risk of having a heart attack, prevent the incidence of type I diabetes by 80%, lower blood pressure, dramatically slow the progression of arthritis, reduce or eliminate muscle pain, and prevent cancer, all without side effects? Many people would ask, “what type of super drug could do all of that and not have any side effects?” I would then have to answer that no drug could do all this, but maintaining adequate levels of one particular vitamin in the body has the potential for all of these things. The vitamin I am referring to is vitamin D. Many of us are familiar with vitamin D and its role in calcium absorption and bone metabolism but many doctors and patients are not aware of recent research on vitamin D that clearly shows its role in treating or preventing all of the things I stated above.

I recently started checking all of my patients for low levels of vitamin D through a blood test called 25-hydroxy-vitamin D after reading dozens of journal articles that clearly showed the outstanding benefits of this nutrient on health. The normal range that the lab gives is 20-100 ng/ml, which is a very large range and does not reflect a healthy range as identified in many of these recent studies. According to the studies the optimal range for this test is 40-65ng/ml. To my surprise the majority of my patients that I have checked fell well below this range. Vitamin D can be obtained naturally from two sources: sunlight and dietary consumption. I’m attributing these low levels to people avoiding the sun for fear of developing skin cancer, inadequate intake from the diet or a decreased ability to absorb vitamin D in the intestinal tract due to poor digestion. An interesting thing to note is that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and it is well known that patients who have had their gall bladders removed have a harder time digesting fat and absorbing the fat soluble vitamins D, A, E and K. Clinically I have noticed that my patients, who have had their gall bladders removed, have the lowest levels of vitamin D of all my patients tested. Also the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 200-400 IU per day but according to the research this way below the levels needed to keep blood levels in that optimal range. The research suggest doses up to 5,000 IU a day for several months, are required for adequate blood levels to be achieved in very deficient patients.

This month I’d like to highlight some of these recent studies on vitamin D and make people aware of the significant health benefits of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in the body. The first study that I came across has to do with vitamin D and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. In this study researchers found that the risk of heart attack is twice as high for those with vitamin D levels less than 34 ng/ml than for those with vitamin D status above this level. Another study showed that patients with congestive heart failure were found to have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than controls, and the researchers noted that vitamin D deficiency has been documented in numerous case reports as being a cause of heart failure. Finally, another study pertaining to cardiovascular health looked at patients suffering from high blood pressure who also had a vitamin D deficiency. When they were supplemented with adequate doses of vitamin D to bring their blood levels into an optimal range, they all experienced significant reductions in their elevated blood pressure.

Vitamin D is often recommended by physicians along with calcium as a treatment and as a prevention of osteoporosis but it has also been shown to prevent and treat osteoarthritis as well. One study showed osteoarthritis of the knee progressed more rapidly in those with vitamin D levels less than 36ng/ml while another study showed that osteoarthritis of the hip progressed more rapidly in those with levels less than 30ng/ml. An interesting study was also done demonstrating that patients with non-traumatic, persistent musculoskeletal pain (also commonly diagnosed as fibromyalgia) show an extremely high prevalence of overt vitamin D deficiency. Many times these patients are just treated with pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs when all they may need is vitamin D. In a very impressive study done recently two researchers found vitamin D deficiency in 83% of their 299 patients with low-back pain, and supplementation with 5,000-10,000 IU per day (over 20 times the RDA for vitamin D) led to pain reduction in nearly 100% of patients after three months.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune reaction in which the pancreas cells that produce insulin are destroyed. In a study with over 10,000 participants, supplementation in infants and children with 2,000 IU (10 times the RDA) of vitamin D per day reduced the incidence of type 1 diabetes by shockingly high 80%. Even though this information is readily available most pediatricians and parents, unfortunately, are not aware of it.

Low vitamin D levels are also linked to an increased risk for a variety of different cancers, depression, autoimmune diseases and migraines. According to the research most patients showed improvement in these conditions if a vitamin D deficiency was corrected through proper supplementation.

So if you are suffering from any of the conditions I spoke about in this article or are just looking to improve your health you should definitely have your vitamin D levels check by a doctor then seek the help of a licensed naturopathic physician to supplement you with the right form and proper dose of vitamin D. The dosages that are talked about in this article can only be prescribed by physicians and blood levels should be monitored while supplementing.