How Vitamin D Deficiency affects our health

Vitamin D levels have been decreasing in the population at the same time as health has been declining. It is not just a correlation but causation and we look at what to do about it in this article.

How Vitamin D Deficiency affects our health
Photo by Salvador Martin Yeste / Unsplash

Over the last two years, my eyes have been opened to a new world of natural health. There are two causes for this, the first is the threat of a dangerous virus that affects the unhealthy far more than the healthy, and the second could be to do with turning 40.

So I found myself at the age of 39, being told to stay home unless I was shopping for groceries or exercising.  I, therefore, started running, 6 days a week.  First 30 minutes, and then later adding in 1-hour sessions and finally cycling daily for 1 hour and running less.  In the last 6 months, I've reduced the cycling in order to add in some strength training.  We'll see what Spring brings this year and whether I pick up the running again.

I was interested to find that despite this sudden increase in activity levels, my weight did not change that much.  I went from 85kg to 81kg.  That didn't make sense to me.  Calories in minus calories out equals either a calorie deficit or a calorie surplus.  I'd been taught that if you have a calorie deficit then you will lose weight. I bought a set of body composition scales to try to get to the bottom of it. People will say "you're losing fat but gaining muscle", but I somehow didn't think so.  The body composition scales proved this.  So thus began my journey into figuring out how my body worked and how to make it more optimal.  One of the first places I turned was this excellent book by Dr Joseph Mercola.

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One chapter in this book opened my eyes to the problem of Vitamin D deficiency and the more I became aware of the problem the more I noticed it being talked about.  The problem of Vitamin D deficiency is talked about, but the solution... not so much.  Is there a conspiracy behind this? Is it well-intentioned but now has gotten out of hand?  Skip to the end to find the conspiracy.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D (also known as "Calciferol") is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced by the skin when in contact with ultraviolet (UV) light.  Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, primarily it helps with calcium absorption in the gut. Therefore a lack of vitamin D can lead to problems with bones, teeth and muscles.

Vitamin D is converted in the body, by the liver, to 25-hydroxy vitamin D [25(OH)D]. Secondly, it is converted in the kidney to 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D [1,25(OH)2D].

Vitamin D has another role in the body which is the reduction of inflammation and the modulation of processes in cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and glucose metabolism.

As a dietary supplement, vitamin D comes in the form of D2 or D3.  Absorption happens by passive diffusion in the intestinal membrane and is enhanced by the presence of fat.  That means that it is best taken at the same time as a meal.

How are Vitamin D levels Measured?

Vitamin D is currently best measured using the level of 25(OH)D in the blood. This is consistent with vitamin D levels in the body and not too quickly regulated by other processes giving it a meaningful correlation.

A drop of blood is required for the test and can then be sent to a lab for analysis.  It is possible to have your doctor do this or to do it yourself using a mail-in service. The cost varies from €25 to €45 depending on whether there are any special offers and in which country you live.  Such as these ones here.

The exact level of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D that is considered healthy varies.  This is because the worst health outcome is rickets and when you have less than 20 ng/mL then you are considered "potentially" at risk.  Conversely, there is a fear that when levels are too high then it can lead to a build-up of calcium.

The fear, which has as far as I can tell, never been proven, has caused an over moderation in the recommendation.  This keeps people's levels much lower than is beneficial.

What are Optimum Vitamin D levels?

The higher you can get your vitamin D levels the better.  The general population has vitamin D levels far lower than they should be.

Dr David Brownstein has treated patients with very high doses of Vitamin D and confirmed no ill effects.  The UK recommends 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day (that's 400 International Units (IUs)), whereas Dr Brownstein was able to use 1250mcg 4 days in a row [see BMJ].  For treating an acute deficiency, he has shown that 50,000 IUs per day can be used for a number of weeks with only positive results.  Such a high dosage was only used under medical supervision and to bring the levels up to something more optimal.

NHS UK actually states:

"Do not take more than 4000 IUs per day as it could be harmful".

This has not been borne out by doctors who actually monitor a patients blood and proactively treat them with high-dose vitamin D.  The optimum levels recommended by these doctors who are actually treating patients and looking for improvements and checking for contraindications recommend a vitamin D level between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL.

To get your vitamin D levels up to this point you will need to take more vitamin D supplements.  To take a cautious approach then you could certainly start with 4000 IUs per day and then get a blood test after a few weeks and see how you're doing.  In my experience even at this dosage, I could barely reach the recommended levels.  I could reach the range recommended by the NHS, but as we'll see later, this simply gets you out of the at-risk category and not into the healthy category.

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

8000-10000 IUs per day should be consumed as a dietary supplement by adults through Autumn and Winter. That means between the start of October and the end of March, and that's provided you get out into the sun enough from April to September.  That's a big "if", again, in my experience, there is some sort of assumption that just because there is more sun people are getting more vitamin D, but that is not the case.  Public Health England recommends those with darker skin take supplements year-round.

Age Government Guidance (IU/day) Better Guidance (IU/day) Upper Limit (IU/day)
Infants 0-12 months 400 1,000 1,000
Children 1-8 years 600 2,000 3,000
People 9-90 600 4,000 10,000

According to Dr Mercola, for your body to produce enough vitamin D, at least 40% of your skin needs to be exposed to the sun for up to 2 hours per day.  Long enough for the skin to change colour slightly, without burning.  This will vary depending on your own location.  To get the UVB light that is required by the skin, you should obviously not use a sun cream that blocks the light.  If you get enough sun in Spring then the skin will already be protected from burning come Summer.  The downside is that you will require longer to achieve the same vitamin D production.

Some food comes with vitamin D, typically oily fish, others are fortified with Vitamin D.  Usually breakfast cereals will come with additional vitamins and some breakfast drinks like fruit juices and milk.  These will often provide only the minimum recommended or lower daily amounts and are by no means a replacement for a high-dose supplement.

If you cannot get into the sun for such a period of time each day then continue to take the supplements.

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Should I take K2 with Vitamin D3?

Vitamin K2 is not required to get many of the benefits of Vitamin D3, however, it is required to get all of the benefits of Vitamin D3.

Vitamin K2 controls the way that calcium is stored and used in the body and particularly in the bones. This is performed by certain proteins that are activated by vitamin K2.

Although vitamin D3 causes the formation of osteocalcin, only vitamin K2 can activate osteocalcin, the protein that stores calcium in the bones.

When vitamin K2 is taken with vitamin D3, then they really work together as a team to amplify the results.  MK-7 is a particular form of vitamin K2 that has demonstrated the greatest benefits by activating the matrix Gla protein (MGP), which is responsible for the regulation of calcium in the arterial walls. MGP is the most effective inhibitor of arteriosclerosis and can only be activated by vitamin K2. A lack of vitamin K2 can lead to a hardening of the arteries.

Vitamin D3 should therefore always be taken in combination with vitamin K2. These two vitamins work as a tag team to ensure that calcium obtained from food is deposited in the bones and not in the arteries.

When Vitamin D is generated by the skin, then the body regulates all these factors accordingly.

Are Sunbeds a Safe way to Get Vitamin D?

The final recommendation is strangely unpopular and unexpected.  That is to use a sunbed. This will allow you to get the UVB light at whatever time of day, whatever season, and without worrying about the strange looks from your neighbours.  You will still need to deal with your friends and colleagues asking why you look so tanned in the middle of winter!  You may need to deal with those criticizing the decision and citing the World Health Organization

The other thing to be aware of is that a sunbed will cost more money than dietary supplements.  A small sunbed for use at home would be about 1000-2000W. The lower the power, the longer you will need to use it.  You will also need longer the darker your skin tone.  I find that 30 minutes per session is sufficient (at 1000W), up to 4 times per week.  When my wife uses it also then we're looking at about 1 hour per day so 1kWh per day.  The cost of electricity in the UK in 2021 is 20p per kWh and in Germany about twice that at 40p.  The cost of the supplements on the other hand varies depending on when you look but is between 10 and 15p (cent) per tablet.

The benefits of using a sunbed, however, far exceed the benefits of simply increasing vitamin D production.  The light from the sunbed can help generate collagen in the skin and can help with the production of endorphins and improve your mood.  Light can alleviate skin conditions, improve metabolism and help regulate sleep cycles.

Because Sunbeds have fallen out of favour it is possible to pick them up used for as little as €25.  Bear in mind that the amount of light from the tubes decreases with age so they may need replacing.  Ask the previous owner if they know how many hours they've been used for.  You want to optimise the tubes for ones that produce a good amount of UVB, the more the better.  About 5% is as good as you can expect from a sunbed, but even lower amounts can significantly boost your Vitamin D levels.  We picked up some tubes that include extra Infrared so that we can benefit from this extra light frequency too.  A set of 10 bulbs set us back about €100.

Does the Sun cause Skin Cancer?

The elephant in the room here is skin cancer.  If your education has been like mine, then since childhood, you've been conditioned to believe that skin cancer is bad and is caused by the sun.

Skin cancer is bad, but it is the most survivable type of cancer.  Does avoiding the sun prevent this type of cancer?  The answer seems to be "No".  Melanoma is a type of skin cancer associated with the most skin cancer deaths, however:

  • 75% of cases appear in regions of the body that are rarely exposed to the sun
  • People who get more sun have a lower incidence of melanoma
  • People who get more sun are less likely to die from melanoma
  • As the use of suncream has increased, so have cases of melanoma

We can suppose that the risk of getting and dying from skin cancer is actually related to reduced levels of Vitamin D.  Not only that but reduced levels of vitamin D is associated with more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease and more recently COVID-19.

Conditions Benefiting from more Vitamin D

The following conditions can be improved and maybe healed by increasing your vitamin D levels:

  • Bone disorders.
  • Cancer (all forms), over two hundred studies confirm the link between vitamin D deficiency and cancers, with the risk being reduced by 50% when levels are optimal.
  • COVID-19, more severe outcomes related to vitamin D deficiency.
  • Dementia and cognitive health, a reduction in brain function seems to be associated with vitamin D deficiency and a subsequent improvement associated with increasing vitamin D to a healthy level.
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Crohn's disease, anecdotal evidence of improved gut function.
  • Multiple sclerosis, research suggests that adequate vitamin D can reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis.
  • Osteoporosis and Rickets, vitamin D supplementation helps the body to use calcium for bone strengthening and repair.
  • Psoriasis

The Vitamin D Conspiracy

It's interesting to read some of the articles around the Internet, and even in the published literature, that deals with Sunbeds and Vitamin D.  They talk about the Tanning Industry pushing their agenda.  Whoever heard of Big Tan?  On the contrary, Big Pharma is well-known. Big Pharma is involved in funding university research, government health committees, the World Health Organisation among others.

The problem with health care, is a large majority of stakeholders do not want a healthy population but a drug-dependent population. This is how their profits can be increased.   Take for example cancer.  There is a great effort to find a cure for cancer.  Non-profits expend great effort raising funds, increasing awareness and promoting research.  What are they researching?  The cure for cancer!  

Cancer Research UK, one such non-profit, has pages related to the causes of cancer, but no links to any published research. Of course, there will be published research, bought and paid for by those developing drugs to cure cancer.  Is there really a desire to find the causes of cancer? No.  But evidence of causes is coming out: sugar, vegetable oils and the like.

The sun has been demonized. Cosmetics are promoted as a way to protect ourselves from the sun, and should we be harmed by it then drugs are the cure. Apparently, evolution is so good at creating complex biology but is incapable of producing adequate protection against the sun.