Just last week I had another conversation with my parents that started off innocently enough, but then took a familiar turn down a well worn path. I was telling my mother about a health article written by a highly respected nutrition expert, John Berardi at Precision Nutrition, that highlighted the potential dangers of taking too much Vitamin D as a supplement. (Her doctor had just upped her dosage.) He also questioned the numerous and increasing prescriptions for Vitamin D supplements without addressing the underlying causes. This really struck home with me. I am often times frustrated to learn that someone I love is on a new medication without any exploration into the root cause of the problem. Modern medicine often times treats the symptoms, but fails to investigate the whole person, including their nutrition and lifestyle components.
My mother’s response to my information was, “They are always coming out with new information. You just don’t know who to believe.”
Sadly, I understand what she means. I have spent years fishing through the headlines of new and flashy information following one study or another that makes big and bold promises. Knowing which ones to listen to and which ones to dismiss are getting harder. Thanks to the inter webs, we are all experts and dutifully provide our advice via social media and niche blogs. (Yep, even me.) But why are you here? Why are you reading this at all? Hopefully it is because you trust me and have found the information that I pass along to you valuable. I want to help raise the level of health for you and our loved ones so that we can thrive. Not just exist.
In order to thrive, we need to use our body’s natural resources efficiently. There is no better example of this than vitamin D. Our body has the amazing ability to make this vitamin from sunlight. Yes, just 5 to 30 min of sun exposure (no sunscreen or UV protective clothing) of sunlight during the hours of 10am to 3pm can be enough to make your own vitamin D. Dr. Berardi goes on to explain how the body then uses the initial form of vitamin D goes through two transformations in the liver first and then in the kidneys to ultimately become a steroid hormone called calcitriol that helps regulate calcium and other minerals in the body.
Our body’s natural ability to regulate and store this hormone for cloudy days or long winters is super cool! But there is a limit to this amazing ability. It only works for the vitamin D your body makes, not the kind you ingest.
There are a few ways to ingest vitamin D:
- Eat animals or animal byproducts such as fish (and fish oils), eggs, or cheese. Theses foods contain vitamin D3, which is the same kind we make in our own skin from sunlight.
- Eat plants, such as mushrooms that make vitamin D2.
- Eat fortified foods such as milk and yogurt, which use vitamin D2
- Take a vitamin D supplement
When you pop a vitamin D supplement, you also must be aware that the vitamin is fat-soluble. If you take it with water and don’t eat any fat, you are wasting your time and money since your body requires fats to break down the vitamin into usable pieces. If you don’t have any fat to break it down, it just floats through your system without any benefit.
Additionally, if you are taking high doses of vitamin D and getting enough calcium, you may still be laking in other nutrients that are required for your body to function properly. For example, Dr. Berardi talks about the importance of vitamin K working with calcium in your body’s clotting function. Without vitamin K, your body can build up dangerous levels of calcium in your body, leading to atherosclerosis.
So, what should you do now? Go back to basics! Eat a wide variety of foods to get your nutrients and supplement only when absolutely necessary. If your doctor suggests supplementing for a particular nutrient, talk with him or her about potential underlying causes and what types of things you can do to improve your everyday diet before opting for a pill. Sometimes pills really are the only answer, but let your doctor know that you want to explore all options and make the decision together.
As I mentioned above, the only type of vitamin D that your body can store and regulate is the kind it makes, so make sure you get at least a few minutes of sunlight a day. It will likely help boost your mood if nothing else 🙂