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Why I Do Take Vitamin D Supplements
I don’t often do rebuttals, but in this case, I felt compelled due to the bad information that was in the article such that I just felt compelled to correct. The article is entitled “DUPED BY VITAMIN D? WHAT LOW LEVELS CAN REALLY REVEAL“, with the Pinterest Pin to go along with it saying, “Why I Don’t Take Vitamin D Supplements”.
The author advocates traditional food, and so she and I agree on MANY things. She also seems to have done some research on Vitamin D and says she remains skeptical about Vitamin D. This is completely valid to be in a position of skepticism on a topic when there is little research on the subject, or you have not delved into a topic completely. However, the author gets several key points wrong in her conclusions that I need to correct, and I believe that she is giving readers incorrect information that could harm their health.
Is Vitamin D a Cure All or a Magic Bullet?
Of course not. And there is no one seriously calling is that. There is no reason to even bring something as silly as that up, except to inspire emotion in your readers so that they agree with you from the start. It’s a similar tactic to calling someone a ‘conspiracy theorist’, it discredits the ‘other’ side and gets everyone agreeing with you from the start. But no one of any repute is calling it a cure-all or magic bullet.
However, there are Vitamin D receptors in nearly EVERY cell in the body. It seems telling that the study below noties that the VDR (vitamin d receptor) is ‘ubiquitously expressed’ 1 2. Another study discusses the ‘myriad’ of functions of the VDR 3, while another discusses it’s ‘diverse’ effects on the human body 4.
The VDR is nearly ubiquitously expressed, and almost all cells respond to 1,25-(OH)2D exposure; about 3% of the mouse or human genome is regulated, directly and/or indirectly, by the vitamin D endocrine system, suggesting a more widespread function. 5
Vitamin D is also responsible for a wide array of genetic expression. 6 7 8 9. While this is a complex topic, still in it’s infancy, the general idea is that genes are not ‘static’. We think that if we have the genes for disease, then we get a disease, even prompting women with ‘genes for breast cancer’ to remove healthy breasts to prevent breast cancer. However, this idea is simply not true.
Our genes are mere ‘possibilities’, with environmental factors responsible for ‘switching’ the EXPRESSION of genes on and off. That is why you can potentially avoid heart disease with lifestyle- even if everyone in your family died from heart disease, and why the documented longest-lived people in the world, the Okinawans, get disease at the same rates as westerners when they move to a western country and adopt the same lifestyle 10.
Vitamin D is a major player in the environmental expression of genes, with the ability to influence the expression of genes for many diseases. Considering that there are VDR’s in nearly every cell in the body, and 3% of the genome is influenced by Vitamin D, this leads to a wide array of activity that Vitamin D is responsible for. But is it a ‘cure all’ or a ‘magic bullet’? Of course not. Who is even claiming that? Not anyone serious anyway.
Are Vitamin D Levels the Cause or the Result of Ill Health?
The author makes the case that Vitamin D levels are the RESULT of many health conditions, not the cause of them. However, this is where the author misses the boat on a grand scale. I definitely understand what she is saying. Poor liver function DOES prevent the conversion of Vitamin D into it’s active form, poor gut function DOES decrease absorption of Vitamin D, and adequate magnesium is required for proper conversion and absorption of Vitamin D. See my page on Magnesium and Vitamin D.
However, she misses the fact that few people GET any Vitamin D in the first place, either by diet or from the sun. The vast majority of people in industrialized countries work indoors and rarely spend much time in the sun, and a high percentage of these same people live above 37 degrees latitude where there is no possibility of getting Vitamin D from sun from October through April. See my page on Vitamin D in Winter.
As far as diet is concerned, virtually the only recognizable source of Vitamin D in the diets of most people in industrialized countries is the one or two glasses of Vitamin D fortified dairy they have per day, which supplies around 200 IU’s of the needed 3500 to around 6000 IU’s per day just to maintain proper levels. See the page on Vitamin D Foods to see other sources, sources that almost no one in western countries eat.
In other words, most people do not actually obtain a significant amount of Vitamin D from any source. Having proper liver function, absorbing well, and getting sufficient magnesium will not help you have proper Vitamin D levels if you do not get Vitamin D.
Does Insufficient Calcium Cause Low Vitamin D?
Again, while this might be true TO A SMALL EXTENT and at severe levels of calcium deficiency, very few people in industrialized nations have low calcium intake. In fact, the Japanese 11 and most of the rest of the world 12 have lower calcium intakes than westerners, yet they also do not suffer from the diseases attributed to low Vitamin D levels, such as osteoporosis and cancers.
The source she cites even admits that there have been no studies showing that increased calcium intake raises Vitamin D levels, and that the reason for this is that most westerners do not have true calcium deficiency.
Yet, most studies on westerners show that we suffer from Vitamin D deficiency at rates up to 85%. So, while her source is correct, and calcium deficiency MIGHT lead to lower Vitamin D levels in those with true calcium deficiency, this is not why westerners, as a whole, are experiencing high levels of Vitamin D deficiency.
Is the Optimal Level between 20 and 40 ng/mL?
The author states, quoting her (only) source cited in the article, “The available evidence suggests that the lowest risk of heart disease occurs when vitamin D status is between 20 and 40 ng/mL”. Again, WHILE THIS STATEMENT IS TRUE, it does not tell the whole story and has several problems.
First, it states or at least implies that higher levels are probably ‘dangerous’, but she doesn’t actually look at the evidence for ALL disease, when in fact, at Grassroots Health, a non-profit organization comprised of Vitamin D research scientists dedicated to promoting the benefits of Vitamin D to the public, have compiled a chart of the research indicating the ‘best’ levels for different diseases.
For instance, the following are just some of the ‘optimal’ levels for the prevention of different diseases. I’ve also included the link to their entire chart if you click the graphic to the right and below:
- 77% reduction of all cancers: 38ng/ml
- Type 1 Diabetes: 36-50 ng/ml
- Multiple sclerosis: 44-54 ng/ml
- Fractures: 39-44 ng/ml
So, if you take the author’s statement at face value, you might miss out on serious prevention of other diseases. Also the ‘range’ on their chart often indicates HIGHER disease prevention at higher levels, and a note on the chart indicates,
Breast cancer incidence is reduced by 30% when the serum
[Vitamin D] level is 34 ng/ml [but] there is an 83% reduction
when the serum level is 50 ng/ml…
However, in keeping your levels even at the high end of just 40 ng/ml (a level few westerners reach without intentional sunbathing or supplements) you’d be missing out on something like a 30% protection from breast cancer, 30% protection from diabetes, and you’d miss out entirely on the up to 20% protection from multiple sclerosis that Vitamin D can provide.
Second, many of the ‘best’ studies on Vitamin D were done using ‘population studies’, where they followed people ‘just living life’ for decades, asked what they were eating, how much supplements and sun they get, etc. Then they looked at those people years later to see what factors caused them to die early or live longer. Most people who take Vitamin D take ‘Calcium and Vitamin D supplements’ and not ‘just’ Vitamin D.
Calcium supplements are a known risk factor for INCREASING levels of heart disease 13. So these studies showing that higher levels of Vitamin D cause an increase in heart disease may very well be ‘confounded’ by the fact that these same people are also taking calcium supplementation and increasing their risk of heart disease.
Third, most people are not even close to the upper range of that 20-40 ng/ml anyway, and a serious percentage of people do not meet even the lowest levels of 20 ng/ml. Why is that? Because of the fact that the author misses entirely- westerners do not get enough Vitamin D, regardless of how much absorption, cofactors, calcium and liver function they have.
She says to find a food source of Vitamin D
Her last line says, “find a food source vitamin D like [fish] roe, egg yolks [and] whole milk (without additives)”
OK, so she’s warns against supplements, however, she thinks you should get more Vitamin D, and she suggests getting it from food. Well, just how would we actually GET Vitamin D from the sources she suggests? First, fish roe MAY contain Vitamin D and I have seen MULTIPLE bloggers state ‘fish eggs contain 17,000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon’ most of whom refer back to the Weston A. Price foundation as having done a study to determine this.
However, multiple searches found a single reference on the Weston A. Price website regarding fish roe from a post entitled Sacred Foods for Exceptionally Healthy Babies …and parents , too!. While this post has multiple references at the bottom, it does not have a reference to this study either! And a comment at the bottom even asks for the reference to confirm this, but none is ever given.
Another blog post, entitled Fish Eggs: Superior Vitamin D Boost is asked for her reference several times, and it’s never given. There is also a comment at the bottom of that post by someone stating that they were using cod liver oil and fish roe daily as a Vitamin D supplement, and that it had a ‘catastrophic’ effect on their Vitamin D level. That hardly sounds like that would be the results from taking a food with such a massive amount of Vitamin D.
Since, upon multiple searches multiple times, I’ve been unable to find a link to these lab results, I wonder if they actually exist. I find it difficult to believe that fish roe has 17,000 IU’s per tablespoon. I DID, however, find other results that show fish roe has FAR less than this. Here are the results per tablespoon for these differing sources:
- Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool shows between 0-68 IU’s for (approximately) a tablespoon of fish roe
- Self Nutrition Data’s Nutrition Facts Table shows 0 IU’s per tablespoon
- Natural Vitamin D Content in Animal Products study shows about 100 IU’s per tablespoon
USDA– shows about 68 IU’s per tablespoon.
She also recommends eating eggs, which contain about 20 IU’s of Vitamin D per egg; and she recommends drinking milk ‘without additives’. Well, one of the ‘additives’ in milk is Vitamin D, in the form of supplements. Milk without ‘additives’ has virtually no Vitamin D. Even this site that is a proponent of raw milk shows that the content of RAW milk, milk designed to be used raw and is ‘without additives’ shows that the Vitamin D content is 38 IU’s per QUART 14.
Even her source for much of the information here, Chris Masterjohn, says on the Weston Price website, “when you do an analysis for vitamins and minerals, raw milk does not look that different from pasteurized” 15. And what about fish itself, which is the best source being wild salmon at up between 500-1000 IU’s per ounce 16?
So, how in heck does she expect you to get any Vitamin D from food? Her recommendations are completely unrealistic when Vitamin D Requirements, according to many sources, are between 3500-6000 IU’s a day. Even the MOST CONSERVATIVE sources state that you need between 600-1000 IU’s per day.
That’s still 20 QUARTS of milk without additives, 30 eggs, or 10 tablespoons of fish roe per day. With the first source I found selling 100 grams of fish roe for about $7.50, that works out to about $200 a MONTH, assuming about 100 IU’s per tablespoon, and about 15 grams per tablespoon!
While I agree that sun is a great source of Vitamin D, that is both a controversial subject, and ignores the fact that almost no one actually gets enough sun to meet their Vitamin D needs except hunter-gatherers who, in a fact ignored by most of the detractors of vitamin d, got up to 20,000 IU’s of Vitamin D from a full-body maximal sun exposure which, arguably, most hunter-gatherers would have easily reached.
Interestingly, so called ‘primitive’ people have natural Vitamin D levels that AVERAGE 46 ng/ml, with a pregnant women whose levels were as high as 105 ng/ml 17. It’s strange that the author recommends following the lifestyle and diet of traditional people, but feels that their natural levels of Vitamin D are probably dangerous!
Are there differences between supplements and sun?
Lastly, she advocates ‘caution’ with Vitamin D supplements because Vitamin D is a hormone. However, is Vitamin D from the sun or food a different chemical that is NOT hormonal in nature? No study I’ve read has noted any material difference in Vitamin D from supplements and Vitamin D from the sun.
If the author were to make an argument that supplements provided a different and more dangerous form of Vitamin D than the sun or food, and provided her sources for this hypothesis, then it might make sense to say ‘Get Vitamin D from food and sun but not supplements’, but she is arguing that VITAMIN D ITSELF is a hormone, and therefore one should be cautious about taking supplements, but that it’s perfectly fine to meet your needs from sun and food.
So how are they different? The author doesn’t specify. In fact, she even states that you should get Vitamin D from food, sun, and ‘other natural sources’. But Vitamin D3 in supplements come from one of three sources:
all of which ARE ‘natural sources’. Yes, there are some people who will have problems taking supplements for various reasons, but some people cannot eat fish roe, fish, or expose their skin to the sun. That does not make those sources of Vitamin D inherently ‘bad’ simply because a minority of people cannot take them.
Yes, it’s important that we get Vitamin D, and get the Vitamin D cofactors of Magnesium, Vitamin K and Vitamin A along with our Vitamin D. It’s important to remedy problems of absorption, and to get as much calcium as we require. However, those who cannot reach ‘optimal’ Vitamin D levels often need to get Vitamin D supplements, for various reasons. This post ignores those many people (arguably a majority of westerners) who are simply unable to get sufficient Vitamin D for healthy levels from food and sun. Those people almost certainly need to take Vitamin D supplements.
- Vitamin D Supplementation and Total Mortality. A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials ↩
- Vitamin D levels and early mortality among incident hemodialysis patients ↩
- Molecular Nature of the Vitamin D Receptor and its Role in Regulation of Gene Expression ↩
- Vitamin D: More Than a “Bone-a-Fide” Hormone ↩
- Vitamin D and Human Health: Lessons from Vitamin D Receptor Null Mice ↩
- Mechanisms of gene regulation by vitamin D3 receptor: a network of coactivator interactions ↩
- Regulation of myc gene expression in HL-60 leukaemia cells by a vitamin D metabolite ↩
- Pleiotropic Effects of Vitamin D on Osteoblast Gene Expression Are Related to the Proliferative and Differentiated State of the Bone Cell Phenotype: Dependency upon Basal Levels of Gene Expression, Duration of Exposure, and Bone Matrix Competency in Normal Rat Osteoblast Cultures ↩
- Vitamin D Receptor ↩
- The Secret of Life ↩
- Comparison of osteoporosis and calcium intake between Japan and the United States ↩
- Fractures, calcium, and the modern diet ↩
- Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis ↩
- What’s in Raw Milk ↩
- Raw Milk FAQ ↩
- An Evaluation of the Vitamin D3 Content in Fish: Is the Vitamin D Content Adequate to Satisfy the Dietary Requirement for Vitamin D ↩
- Vitamin D status indicators in indigenous populations in East Africa ↩