We know vitamin D for its ability to help us absorb more calcium from our diet. It was known as the vitamin for bone health for a long time. However, with recent research on Vitamin D,  we are still discovering benefits and mechanisms in which vitamin D can help us thrive with when levels are optimal. Did you know vitamin D targets over 2,000 genes in our cells? Experts now consider this vitamin a hormone, an enzyme, and a gene regulator.

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The Need for Vitamin D

Currently, we know that vitamin D can: improve fertility; safeguard pregnancy; reduce chronic inflammation; help control weight; protect against infectious agents; help prevent strokes and neurological disorders (including dementia), bolster our immune response; boost mental cognition; modulate heart function; and support muscle strength. Here is a list of bullet points and I did my best to find the clinical studies for them.

Cardio Metabolic Benefits

  • Vitamin D activates cells that protect against heart hypertrophy (1)
  • Vitamin suppresses vascular and systemic inflammation-induced atherogenesis. This helps to reduce heart attacks and strokes (2)
  • Vitamin D inhibits multiple mechanisms to prevent plaque formation and improve HDL transport (3)
  • Vitamin D protects you from Orthostatic hypertension (dizzy feeling when you stand up and your blood pressure drops) by helping the baroreceptor reflex-function (4)
  • Vitamin D protects from high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, vascular calcification, and kidney failure (5)
  • Low vitamin D levels are linked to arterial and venous diseases like CAD, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and venous thromboembolism (6)
  • Vitamin D inhibits coronary artery calcification (7)

Benefits on Blood Pressure

  • Vitamin D suppresses the Parathyroid levels which helps to keep blood pressure controlled
  • Vitamin D has been shown to be essential for endothial cell and smooth muscle function (8)
  • Vitamin D increases nitric oxide production to help regulate blood pressure (9)
  • The increase in Calcium from vitamin D3 helps to activate the important eNOS system to produce nictric oxide (10)

Benefits on Glucose metabolism and insulin Resistance (Diabetes)

  • Vitamin D can improve gene expression that produces insulin in the pancreas (11)
  • Vitamin D stored in the pancreas reduces pancreatic cell death due to cytokines or inflammation (12)
  • Vitamin D at proper levels can improve pancreatic health

Benefits against Cancer

Vitamin D has been published in several research articles against cancer. Three of the most prevalent and scariest cancer – breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer – are highly influenced by the amount of sun exposure and vitamin D level. Here are few studies to highlight this:

  • According to Dr. Michael Holick, a recognized authority on vitamin D, excess vitamin D is stored in the your cellular tissue. Once activated, vitamin D can:
    • Intervene and halt chaotic reproduction of precancersous cells by inducing cell death.
    • Inhibits the formation of new blood vessels needed to nourish cancerous growth
  • Vitamin D prevents the growth of human breast cancer cells (13)
  • Women with Low vitamin D levels have greater risk of dying from breast cancer (14)
  • High blood levels of vitamin D have been shown to increase survival rates for colon cancer in both men and women by almost 50% (15)
  • Researchers from the University of California concluded 1,000 IU/day of vitamin D lowers an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer by as much as 50% (16)
  • Postmenopausal women who supplemented with 1,100 IU/day of vitamin D reduced their risk of dying from ALL cancers by more than 66% (17)

Who is at Risk for Low Vitamin D levels

Our diet, age, lifestyle, and medical history can affect our vitamin D levels. Here is a list of people that are at risk of suffering below functional vitamin D3 levels. This is the population at risk for the bullet points listed above.

  • With eating the Standard American Diet; processed foods, foods high in sugar, and liquid drinks lack vitamin D.
  • Breastfed infants get very little vitamin D from milk.
  • Elderly population is at risk because they consume low amounts of dietary foods and spend more times indoors.
  • As we age, the skin becomes less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight and liver is less efficient at producing Vitamin D2.
  • Limited sun exposure to the torso greatly limits endogenous skin production of vitamin D.
  • The darker your skin or more pigment of your skin reduces the conversion of endogenous vitamin D versus lighter skin (18)
  • Gastric Bypass Surgery causes digestive anatomy alterations from these surgeries, and nutrients bypass important sites for digestion and absorption (19)
  • Obesity causes vitamin D to move into the fat cells rather circulate the body and interact with cells freely (20)
  • Liver Disease slows down bile salt that are essential to the absorption of vitamin D (21)
  • Cystic Fibrosis patients has shown to have a multifactorial causes of lower vitamin D levels. Reduced sunlight exposure, reduced dietary intake, pancreatic insufficiency, reduced absorption capabilities, poor body fat stores and decreased vitamin D-binding protein (22)
  • Weight loss drugs like Orlistat that works by stopping fat absorption in the intestines that affects the absorption of vitamin D (23)

How to Monitor Your Vitamin D levels

Serum 15(OH)D is the preferred lab test to measure your vitamin D3 levels. The lower limits is between 20 ng/ml, which has been shown to be too low and non-functional for most humans. The vitamin D council target range for levels to be anywhere from 40 to 80 ng/mL.  This is a general recommendation and your doctor could decide to target higher customized levels based on your how functional your body is based on certain levels.

Most clinicians that are familiar with the benefits of vitamin D and was it typically therapeutic try to have their patients between 60 to 80 ng/mL. Also being careful to stay below 100 ng/ml due to toxicity.

What type of Vitamin D should I take?

There a couple of things to look at when supplementing vitamin D. Vitamin D2 or vitamin D3, is vitamin D2 50,0000 IU safe, and what about K2 with vitamin D are a couple of questions that I will answer here.

Vitamin D2

Most supplements or fortification is from bioidentical vitamin D3 (cholcalciferol).This is the vitamin D3 that is made when UVB reacts with our skin cells. Another form is called ergocaliferol or vitamin D2. This is an older version derived from UV light-exposed ergosterol (mostly from yeast). Vitamin D3 has shown to be the more preferred supplement since it last longer in the serum and increases the Serum 15(OH)D levels more efficiently (24).

What about Vitamin D 50,000 IU?

This dose of vitamin D has been documented to be safe when taken once-weekly, but not used daily for long periods. Therefore, you should monitor your vitamin D serum levels. Anything over 100 ng/ml would indicated over supplementation with vitamin D3. Reevaluating your vitamin D levels every 2 to 3 months would be preferred until levels are stable between 40 to 80 ng/mL.

What about Vitamin K?

Vitamin K has been a popular vitamin for it’s benefits to bone health. It is a part of many protocols along with vitamin D and calcium to improve bone mineral density. Researchers are still trying to figure out vitamin K and how it relates to supplementing with vitamin D. On one end, studies have shown that when supplementing with vitamin D in high doses, vitamin K will be depleted. Studies have suggest that vitamin D should be taken with vitamin K to help with bone health. However, there have not been any randomized controlled trials to support the 2 together.

How much vitamin D3 to take?

The amount of vitamin D3 to take will vary based on your 25 (OH) D lab. However, most people can take 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day for maintenance. I currently take 5,000 IU per day since I work indoors, have darker skin, and my vitamin D levels are always between 20 to 30 ng/mL. So, if you are looking for my bullet points on what to do, here we go:

  • For maintenance, you can take 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of Vitamin D3
  • For deficiencies, you may want to start with 5,000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, and monitor your 25(OH) D labs every 2 to 3 months
  • Normally, I would recommend monitoring every 6 months. Usually after Summer and Winter are good times to check your lab levels and adjust accordingly.
  • According to Dr. Mark Hyman, it can take 6 to 12 months for some people to get in functional vitamin D range. So give it time and have patience.

Vitamin D3 & K2

Vitamin D3

Natural ways to get Vitamin D for Maintenance

Here are some examples of were to get your maintenance dosage of vitamin D:

  • 15 to 30 minutes of full body exposure when sun is at the highest (equivalent to 15,000 to 20,000 IU)
  • Salmon Farm Raised Atlantic – 3.5 oz or 100 grams (510 IU), on average wild cause salmon has more vitamin D
  • Herring 3.5 oz or 100 grams (113 IU)
  • Sardines 3.5 oz or 100 grams (193 IU)
  • Mackerel 3.5 oz or 100 grams (643 IU)
  • Cod Liver Oil 1 teaspoon (450 IU)
  • Canned tuna 3.5 oz or 100 grams (269 IU)
  • Egg yolk from 1 large egg (37 IU), pasture-raised eggs can be 3-4 times higher in vitamin D
  • Cremini mushrooms when grown under UV light 1 cup (1,110 IU of vitamin D2)
  •  Cow’s milk 1 cup (115 IU)
  • Soy milk 1 cup(110 IU)
  • Orange juice 1 cup (100 IU)
  • Cereal or Oatmeal 1 cup (145 IU)

That is a lot of information and if you don’t have some kind of medical background, then this can look like learning a new language. I have over 15 years of medical experience, 9 years as a pharmacist reviewing medications, and 6 years as a sleep specialist helping people learn the skill of sleep. If you want to see more information about the type of work I do, click here!

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