Over the last couple of years or so I have developed quite an interest in vitamin D. It seems like a week doesn’t go by when some study or other has unearthed a potential new benefit for this substance, or some research turns up results that strengthen and support previous work. The evidence as it stands suggests Vitamin D appears to have the capacity to ward off, among other things, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscle pain, osteoporosis and excess weight.
I’ve also been trying to get a handle on what a good level of bodily vitamin D would be. I don’t believe much in ‘reference ranges’ for vitamin D and other things. These, generally are set too wide, and can allow people to be ‘normal’ but with suboptimal levels at the same time. For example, you can read here how ‘normal’ levels of iron in the body can leave individuals compromised in terms of their energy and wellbeing. While there is no consensus on what represents an optimal vitamin D level, there is some agreement among those with a special interest in the area that 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 mmol/l) is worth shooting for.
Usually, most of our vitamin D requirements are met by the action of sunlight on our skin. I am a self-confessed sun-worshiper, and sport a year-round tan. I never (ever) use sunscreen. One of the major dietary sources of vitamin D is oily fish, something that I eat quite regularly. Ever since I became cognisant of the critical role that vitamin D plays in health and wellbeing, I imagined that vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency was something that happened to other people.
In April, more out of idle curiosity than anything else, I decided to have my vitamin D levels checked and these came back at 15 ng/ml (low, and a long way from optimal). From 25th April, to remedy this, I started taking vitamin D (in gelcaps) at a dose of 3000 IU per day. I took these religiously. I also got as much sunshine exposure as possible while avoiding burning. Some people commented on this site that they felt I probably needed a bigger dose of vitamin D to get up into the normal range.
I repeated the test about a week ago and got the results back yesterday: 31 ng/ml.
So, on the plus side, I have doubled my levels. On the other hand, they still remain quite a bit lower than the optimal range. Yesterday, I changed my vitamin D regime, and am now taking 5000 IU units a day. I’m planning to retest again in another 2-3 months.
I was reflecting on all this this morning. Up until recently, there I was, happily believing I was immune to vitamin D deficiency on the basis of my dietary and sun exposure habits. If someone told me that I was likely going to need to supplement with more than 10 times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D to get my vitamin D into the optimal range I would never have believed them.
And this just got my thinking just how many people may be wandering around with seriously compromised vitamin D levels. Bearing in mind it looks like vitamin D has a quite pivotal role in health, what sort of disease burden may this be causing and/or leading to? And how much unnecessary suffering might be avoided by individuals being educated about what optimal vitamin D levels are, how to have their vitamin D levels tested, and what to do to keep vitamin D levels in their normal range.
Personally, what I think we require for there to be any chance of this happening, is for their to be long-term randomised controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation. And that these should include measurement of vitamin D levels so that the relationship between these and disease risk can be further assessed.
The other thing that needs to happen is for healthcare then to be based on the best available evidence (not on what happens to be most profitable). I sometimes wonder whether the fact that iron is a non-patentable item that so many individuals seem to go short on this vitally important nutrient. Let’s hope that vitamin D does not go the same way on the basis that it too is a naturally occurring substance that cannot be patented and therefore has limited commercial value.
P.S. No blog yesterday as site was down the whole day due to ‘server issues’.