Every month new studies seem to be released documenting a new benefit of Vitamin D. It truly is the ‘it’ vitamin (it’s really a type of hormone) and for very good reasons. You can question these studies as many do, but the evidence is mostly swinging in the direction of benefit.
Vitamin D along with Omega 3 fatty acids are almost universally recommended as supplements, even by people who don’t recommend much else because the vast majority of people simply don’t get enough. On the controversial subject of supplementation, vitamin D simply doesn’t seem to be controversial any longer. What does remain controversial is how much you should take. And this matters a lot because in my opinion and that of many others, the ultra-conservative mentality of public institutions is still harming the general public by recommending amounts that are simply not sufficient for optimal benefit.
There is so much information out there that it is very difficult for the average person to know what to make of it all. For my own benefit, I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching vitamin D and so I hope this article will help you cut through the mass of conflicting information and make a healthy decision for yourself.
Of course this is just my opinion and everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves.
Toxic effects in humans have been observed in amounts of 50,000 IU per day taken over a period of months. To put that into perspective if you drank 10 times the amount of water that is usually recommended I think you might die. That doesn’t make water unsafe.
The conservative Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises governments in the U.S. and Canada and is part of the same overall organization as the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. The IOM allows up to 4,000 IU per day as safe which is 1/12 of the observed toxic amount. They recommend far less but they clearly believe much larger amounts are safe. They probably believe even higher amounts are safe but as with all such recommendations they are erring far on the side of being conservative to avoid any possibility of blame.
They raised the safe limit to 4,000 IU from 2,500 IU in 2010 so clearly they believe the safety evidence is trending to higher amounts. I think 4,000 IU amount is unjustifiably small. If a light-skinned Caucasian like me spent 30 minutes in the sun wearing only a pair of shorts, his skin will produce about 10,000 IU of vitamin D. I think it is ludicrous to believe therefore that 10,000 IU is unsafe for humans. A long-time researcher has challenged anyone to provide evidence that 10,000 IU daily is unsafe and as far as I can tell nobody has been able to provide it. If spending 30 minutes in the sun would create an unsafe amount of vitamin D, our natural biology is seriously screwed up. Interestingly enough, the body degrades any further production after about 10,000 IU. A very popular author and renowned health and brain expert, Daniel Amen, says he personally takes 10,000 IU. Obviously he isn’t worried. Neither am I; I take 6,000 IU daily.
Vitamin D is extraordinarily inexpensive. My cost on Amazon is about $0.15 per day (that’s right 15 cents) and I take a 6,000 IU per day.
Benefits of Increased Vitamin D
This list probably understates the benefit of vitamin D, but it is a list for which I believe there is sufficient evidence. The cancer benefit alone should make anyone who questions taking it think again.
- Lower overall mortality
- Significantly lower rates of many types of cancer
- Lower risk of bone disease
- Improved weight loss when combined with dieting
- Improved energy
- Slowing of Parkinson’s
- Lower risk of mental illness
- Lower risk of diabetes
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of lung disease
- Lower risk of MS
- Lower risk of depression
It’s not dangerous, it’s cheap, and it might be more beneficial than anyone currently imagines so what are you waiting for?
How Much Should You Take?
Very few people, unless they work or play a lot outdoors without sunscreen and live at less than 37 degrees latitude (North or South) are getting the amount of sun that will provide them with optimal amounts of vitamin D. Even when people work and play outdoors they have lathered up with sunscreen which prevents vitamin D production. We don’t naturally get enough from diet.
So how much should you take? That’s not an easy question to answer which is another reason why “recommended” amounts tend to be very low. Nobody wants to over recommend. It’s really ludicrous in my opinion. The ideal amount is enough to raise the level of vitamin D in your blood to optimal levels. Of course what is optimal is up to interpretation. From what I can determine most people consider the bottom end of optimal to be either 20 ng/ml or 30 ng/ml. I think the evidence is clear that higher levels are better but consider that I can find no evidence that anyone thinks 40 ng/ml is too high. Many experts believe optimal levels to be above 50 ng/ml and as high as 90 ng/ml. Most people agree 150 ng/ml is too high.
Young healthy people who spend a significant amount of time in the sun have blood levels between 20 ng/ml and 60 ng/ml. Assuming that nature knows what it is doing with your body’s vitamin D production, you would have to assume 60 ng/ml is not too high and I can find no evidence that says it is. So why don’t you just be conservative and try to achieve around 40 ng/ml which virtually everyone agrees is safe? I think that is conservative but by taking the recommend amounts you will likely be way below that level.
Most people are not going to get their blood tested. Even I haven’t had a blood test where I had an opportunity to have it measured in the last few years. I hope to have one in the next few months but I’m taking high amounts to be safe. Since I am convinced that even higher levels are safe I’m not going to make a special trip to the doctor. It’s about time for me to have a middle-aged physical and I will not lower that amount unless my blood level turns out to be over 80 ng/ml; which I consider to be highly unlikely.
Given all of the evidence available I think everyone that doesn’t get frequent sun exposure year round should take an absolute minimum of 1,000 IU per day. If you don’t, I think you are crazy. The risk of low blood levels is simply too high. Still to my mind 1,000 IU daily is an extremely conservative recommendation. If I was advising a friend or family member I would recommend that without blood tests and decent sun exposure, they should take 4,000 IU daily. If you do get decent sun exposure you can adjust that down between 4,000 IU and 1,000 IU depending upon the levels of exposure. I would call decent at least 30 minutes daily on your hands, arms, and face if you are light-skinned and live in lower latitudes like where I do in Southern Texas (around 30 degrees North).
If you live above a latitude of 37 in the northern hemisphere or below 37 in the southern hemisphere your skin simply cannot make sufficient vitamin D except in the summer months. That comes from Harvard Medical School, a conservative traditional medical establishment. In the U.S. that’s basically a line north of San Francisco, Denver, and Richmond. In Europe it’s about everyone (e.g. Madrid is 40 degrees North).
Few people will get tested but I think you should do so at your next opportunity when you visit a doctor. It’s the only way to really know. You should probably take a summer and winter test until you know how much to take to achieve your optimal blood levels. Most experts recommend waiting a couple of months to get tested after changing your intake in order to allow your blood levels to stabilize.
The danger of low blood levels of vitamin D are MUCH greater than high levels in my opinion. So rather than error on the low side like public officials recommend, why not error on the high side? The way we live indoors now is not natural. The best thing to do is get tested. You only have your health to lose.
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