Why You Should Take More Vitamin D Than Recommended By Health Officials

by Stephen Mills on March 17, 2011

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.

Safety

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.

Cost

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).

Get Tested

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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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrei March 18, 2011 at 5:52 am

Hey

I am interested in the Vitamin D topic as well. With the risk of you saying that I’m crazy, I’ll tell you that I take about 1000 IU every about 3 days.

I made my own research on vit D, you can have a look: http://quickname.blogspot.com/2010/11/vitamin-d-overdose.html

I am interested in the source for this sentence ” 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”, do you have any link?

Reply

Stephen Mills March 18, 2011 at 7:13 am

Hi Adrei, yes I do think you’re crazy unless you get a decent amount of sun :-) . Actually I don’t think people who are not informed of the evidence are crazy. They are victims of the alleged guardians of public health. However, once people are made aware of the evidence, I think they are crazy if they ignore it. I did read your article. You are correct that if you get the right amount of sun you can get enough but most of the population of the U.S. and most of Europe can’t get that outside of summer. Most people don’t even when they can. The amount people get in the Sun is hundreds of times the amount they get in the recommended daily amounts from governments.

Reinhold Vieth makes this statement in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 69, No. 5, 842-856, May 1999.

“Total-body sun exposure easily provides the equivalent of 250 microg (10000 IU) vitamin D/d, suggesting that this is a physiologic limit.”

The question is how long does that take? From what I’ve been able to determine it is full body exposure anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes for a white man like me depending upon age, time of day, and of course latitude. These statements can be found all over the Internet.

In the June 23 edition of U.S. News and World Report it was summarized as this:

“If you’re fair skinned, experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun—in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen—will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin.”

Here in my opinion is the best statement summary of the evidence taken from the Vitamin D Councils website:

“Studies show that if you go out in the summer sun in your bathing suit until your skin just begins to turn pink, you make between 10,000 and 50,000 units of cholecalciferol in your skin. Professor Michael Holick of Boston University School of Medicine has studied this extensively and believes a reasonable average of all the studies is 20,000 units. That means a few minutes in the summer sun produces 100 times more vitamin D than the government says you need! As discussed in other pages, this is the single most important fact about vitamin D.”

It takes about 30 minutes for whitey like me to start turning pink at noon.

That in my opinion is an almost unanswerable point. Indeed how is it that the sun can produce enormous quantities but if you take magnitudes less it is some how super dangerous? A question I believe that has yet never been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. The real answer is the ultra-conservative attitude of public officials.

At least go out in the sun in the summer and take decent amounts in the winter. If you don’t you are crazy.

Reply

Andrei March 18, 2011 at 6:00 am

something else, there is a immune system disease, sarcoidosis, where vitamin D is causing a lot of trouble. Check http://www.sarcinfo.com/calcium.htm

Also check this link: Vitamin D may exacerbate autoimmune disease http://www.physorg.com/news158425579.html

The reason I post this is to remind you that there is NO one size fits all. EVERYONE should tailor their vitamin and food dosage according to their body.
Andrei´s last [type] ..How one man tracked down Anonymous—and paid a heavy price

Reply

Stephen Mills March 18, 2011 at 9:31 am

Adrei, of course! Those people shouldn’t take your recommendations for sunshine either.

My sister died from an autoimmune disease at a young age. Supplementing with vitamin D would be bad for her. She could not tolerate any sun exposure. My response is so what?

To argue that because a few people won’t benefit or may be harmed, thus it is best that the overwhelming majority of people not get optimal amounts and THUS BE HARMED is a ludicrous position but that is what causes our public health officials to be so conservative. I simply cannot accept the that timidity.

You will never get me to argue that people should do something that harms their health, which is exactly why I think discouraging 1,000 people from getting optimal amounts and the benefits because 1 person might be harmed is irresponsible. The same people who might be harmed by supplements might be harmed from getting more vitamin D by taking your own advice and getting sunshine. That was bad advice for my sister.

So yes EVERYONE is different and there is no one answer for everyone. I totally agree which is why the public recommendations that are given to EVERYONE are so wrong.

Currently the average U.S. level is 24 ng/ml. So clearly the vast majority are below what everyone agrees is safe and most experts believe is optimal. That certainly is too low for the available evidence. So suggesting they don’t take a fraction of the amount they would get by sunshine if available to them is conservative irresponsibility. But hey, all the people being harmed don’t know it and aren’t hanging them in public executions. But the one person who had a bad effect will get the media involved and excoriate them. Thus in their mind it is better the masses be harmed than one dramatic public example. So therefore the ridiculously low recommendations.

I know I ranted a little bit here but this is exactly the problem with trusting these recommendations.

I’ve studied this a lot and I think the risk of low blood levels far exceed the risk of high blood levels. In the end you can always have it checked if you are worried.

Reply

Andrei March 18, 2011 at 9:50 am

Sorry for your loss! I myself have an autoimmune disorder, I know things can get bad.

I appreciate your reply, and agree with most of it. I’m not living in the US, but I think I get what you mean.
Andrei´s last [type] ..How one man tracked down Anonymous—and paid a heavy price

Reply

Stephen Mills March 18, 2011 at 9:58 am

Hi Andrei, please come back again!

Reply

Femme_Artiste March 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

I am fair-skinned & live just north of Denver. I was taking 10,000 units of D3 daily in the form of drops. I got my blood tested & was a bit high (I don’t remember how high as I am not yet familiar with the measuring system, so the number didn’t stick with me). Now I take 8,000 units per day, but haven’t been retested yet to see what I’m at after the change in units.

Reply

Stephen Mills March 18, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hi Femme_Artiste,

You are doing exactly the right thing. Adjusting your level based upon blood tests. Thanks for commenting.

Reply

Stephen Mills March 18, 2011 at 9:41 am

I forgot something in my article that I just remembered. At one time I read a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial with Japanese children showed that those who were given daily Vitamin D supplements of 1,200 IU had significantly less incidence of influenza and asthma attacks.

Reply

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills March 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Good one Stephen, I take an average of 7500 IU per day (5000 one day and 10,000 the next). It’s a habit that has served me well over the years on many levels.
Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last [type] ..The Struggle between Greed and Compassion

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 18, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Very interesting article! I don’t know much about the vitamin D debate, but I’ll definitely look into it after reading this.

Reply

Nicole May 23, 2011 at 1:06 am

My doctor said the vitamin D levels of both my mother and I were way too low. Unfortunately, I stopped taking the supplement because I didn’t think it mattered and he did not thoroughly explain to me the benefits of it. I guess I need to start taking it again.

Reply

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Ran Tanner July 16, 2011 at 6:42 am

Great article. I was recently tested my blood and found out my vD is only 16. I went to a Osteopathic doctor as a final result to find out why I was fatigue and depressed. I had really back pain. He immediately tested my vitamin D level. None of my family doctors even thought of the test. I am talking 5000iu a day trying to catching up. It was a eye opening to read this. I never thought a little sunshine helps youu overall health in a big way. Thank you for this information.

Reply

Cecil Specht July 17, 2011 at 1:56 am

You should know about the connection between vitamin D and magnesium, should you be regularly taking vitamin D, to protect yourself from negative effects and also operate maximizes absorption. Basically nutrients are unfit to be working alone particularly if it really is regarding vitamin D. So, to strike a suitable balance it is essential to take vitamin D magnesium rather than just large doses of vitamin D because doing so can cause vitamin D uncomfortable side effects, which lots of people believe.

Reply

Isabella Petrie February 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm

As a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, we knew about the link between Vitamin D and degenerative diseases 10 years ago. It’s great that most doctors are now testing for deficiency. Even if you get enough sun, however, you may not be able to process the Vitamin D to its active form. With bodies, it’s often not that simple.
Isabella Petrie´s last [type] ..Health and Wellness

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Tom Brdar December 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

I wonder if Sungazing, when UV at or near ZERO, makes for a good tool on this Vitamin D matter.

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I am really curious on why should I take more vitamin D than the recommended amount. I know that everyone are also eager to learn about it. I am really happy to know the real reason about it.

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