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January 9, 2010

The vitamin D dilemmas

GettingVitaminD.jpgSomehow vitamin D has become the hottest, trendiest, newest magic bullet without the media taking much notice of it. It's tricky because it's one of the few vitamins  you can't get enough of by just eating the right foods. It's in certain fish, and in fortified dairy products and cereals, which if you feel you should get your vitamins naturally, like I do, doesn't count.

Scientists have long known that we need vitamin D to maintain bone health and metabolize calcium; but recent research suggests it may also help both men and women in reducing the risk of certain kinds of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions.

That's what I mean by a magic bullet.

The first dilemma is that most people get vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, and we're all supposed to be wearing sunscreen these days.

The second dilemma, a personal one, is that I don't like taking supplements, especially mega-doses of vitamins. Who's funding that research anyway? ...

I remember when Linus Pauling announced that large amounts of vitamin C would cure the common cold and just about everything else. People no longer relied on their daily glass of orange juice to get enough. I remember the backlash as nothing was ever proven; and someone saying, "Americans have the most expensive urine in the world."

Then it was the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E, which turned out to have toxic effects in large doses.

And every woman's gynecologist telling her that chewing Tums was the best way to get the calcium she needed -- until it turned out that the stomach acid the Tums controlled was actually needed to absorb the calcium.

So I wasn't happy when my doctor got the lab results back after a routine annual physical and told me my vitamin D levels were unacceptably low; and I would need to take 1000 IU twice a day for a month to catch up and then 1000 IU daily "forever."

The one difference I can see is that in those other examples, people just took the vitamins. They hadn't been tested and found to have low blood levels. 

Talking to a few friends, I found out their vitamin D levels had also tested below acceptable. I checked out our health blog, Picture of Health, which reported that 7 in 10 children had unacceptably low levels of vitamin D.

I wonder how they decide what the parameters should be if so many people are deficient. I did a little internet research, but it didn't answer all my questions.

Anyway, I guess I'll be taking vitamin D until the next round of research. I don't see myself eating sockeye salmon every night, which is what it would take to get close to my doctor's recommendation.

(Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:35 AM | | Comments (34)


EL, I understand your misgivings, but my scientist husband thinks vitamin D is the real deal. We both take extra D every day on our internist's advice. I read all sorts of science and health information that comes into the house, and just about every month there is some new study about an additional benefit from vitamin D. I read in one of these a couple of years ago that a majority of people with back pain were deficient in vitamin D. Someone at the gym mentioned to me that her back was bothering her and I asked if she had considered taking extra D. A couple of months later she reported that her back pain was all gone--great results, if you ask me. The powers that be are considering raising the recommended daily dosage of D for everyone. You can go outside and bask in the sun (without sunscreen) for 10 minutes and get measurable D, but that isn't going to work at this latitude and this time of year.

rebate catnaps: Cleatus's late night tv pitchman name.

Oh, and then I got Frank alfresco--Cleatus's Italian restaurant owner name.

Dahlink: I'm with you. It's vital for bone and nerve health.

How about a nice, tall, cold glass of low-fat vitamin-D milk each morning? Hmmmmm. Or a nice-nice fruit smoothie made with same?

(Nice captches, btw!...)

hoovers next (my vacuum salesman name)

If you want to know how they set the parameters for vitamin D, do a little more research. The government recommendations are very out of date.
Watch Dr. Hollick's slide presentation on the net at Also watch the Grassroots Health vitamin D video presentation "Vitamin D Prevents Cancer: Is It True? " on YouTube. These two will give you a very good overview of why this is so important and why vitamin D deficiency is so common.
Cleatus, that glass of milk is going to have to be very tall indeed for you to be able to get enough vitamin D from it.
Try a tall glass of cod liver oil instead.

Get a little sunshine. It's free! 10-15 minutes 3X per week or use a sunbed for 1/2 of the recommended time once or 2X per week ( if you aren't a Type 1 skin type or have history or risk factors for skin cancers )
The blanket statement by the AAD to stay out of the sun has proven to be reckless at best as most people are so vitamin D deficient and are at risk of future health problems. The small majority that cannot be in the sun shouldn't, but for the vast majority of the population moderate sun is beneficial.

Cleatus, I do drink some milk (mostly in the form of my daily latte), but we have sworn off skim and low-fat dairy after reading that if you have a family history of macular degeneration, the full fat forms of dairy may be less harmful to the eyes.

sunshine and milk won't do it. and, additionally, you will not "hold" your Vit D levels without also taking soluble calcium carbonate daily. I have started taking soluble cc and 2000 units of Vit D daily and my levels now hold.

Vitamin D is a magic bullet. It helps in everything from weight loss to body pain.

I agree with Dahlink's husband. It IS the real deal!

The problem is that the recommendations are out of date, and a lot of doctor's haven't kept up with the changes. I take 10,000 units daily. I drink a lot of milk, and that wasn't giving me enough vitamin D.
The formula to get natural vitamin D is very complicated: based on time of year, latitude, etc. Plus, you need to basically sit in the sun in shorts and sleeveless tops to get enough D.
Here is a link to learn more about D. I respect this physician. He presents lots of cutting edge research on various topics.

I do not as a rule take any supplements - but I am now recommending all my family and friends to take high dose Vitamin D. I have been researching this topic for the last two months - I have a degree in Zoology and worked in Bio-Physics - and the more I read the more convinced I have become. I have created my own webpage with links to the best Vitamin D websites, charts and videos. Anything I find gets posted here:

Okay, I'll bite. I've been a bit cynical as well with the "this vitimin fixes EVERYTHING" bit, but the back pain angle intrigues me. Mainly because i threw my back out this week and spent 4 days in bed, to my abject delight. I'll keep everyone posted.

captcha: glass permian.. what my back is made of, apparently.

This planet supports human life. The Sun is a major factor in that support system. Buy a motorcycle. When possible, ride naked. In the chilly months, drop a D with a beer back just before bed.
You'll live forever.

I thought rickets came from not having enough vitamin C. And who is Torsten?

jl,would that be The Baltimore Sun or the large yellow orb in the sky of which you speak?

I think riding naked would perhaps be frowned upon in our fair state, with laws about public nakedness...

Otherwise, your hypothesis seems a sound one to me.

Interesting theory that this planet supports human life; we'll see about that fairly soon, won't we?

When I ride naked, can I hold, like, a big Kevlar-lined hemp doormat in my lap?

research cuddlier (my dog and cat psychologist name)

Rickets is caused by a severe Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency first became a public health problem after the industrial revolution when we moved into crowded cities and worked all day in factories. Avoiding mid-day sunshine caused mass outbreaks of Rickets in children - until preventive treatment with natural and artificial UV radiation and cod-liver oil all but eliminated the disease.

We are now suffering a second Vitamin D crisis - caused by the technology revolution. We stay out of the sun, at work, school and home - we travel by car to shop in covered malls - and most of our recreation is now indoors. When we do go out in the sun we slap on the UV sun-screen and wear protective clothing and make sure our children do the same.

Having managed to starve ourselves of Vitamin D by avoiding sunshine we are now discovering that it is a vital regulator of our immune systems - and without it we are at risk of infections, certain cancers and auto-immune diseases. Check my website at:

Untold amounts of documentation supporting supplementation of vitamin D is easy to find. Many Multiple Sclerosis specialists are recommending 4,000IU to their MS and CIS patients. To easily avail of some of the most recent and important research please stop by:

Not to go into too much detail, but just to clarify:

Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy.

Vitamin D deficiency in childhood causes rickets.

Severe Vitamin D deficiency in adulthood causes osteomalacia, a softening of the bones.

Even without frank osteomalacia, D deficiency can cause a host of adverse effects. I'm a rheumatologist, and I put most of my patients on 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily. I doubt it will help acute back pain due to injury, but my experience using it in chronic unexplained back pain has been positive. Of course, anyone with severe, persistent back pain should see a physician.

Oh yeah. Scurvy. Thanks Andrew.

Once upon a time all the great thinkers thought the earth was the center of the universe!!!

I'm with you. My only choice is to take suppliments AND follow doctors recommendations: "no more than 2000 IU daily" (after his RX to get levels up) "any more than that can cause kidney stones"...

I tell any & all doctors everything I take, both prescribed and store bought! No matter who suggested OR prescribed!

Circulating 25(OH)D3 Levels in Fully Breastfed Infants on Oral Vitamin D Supplementation
This paper details of research done at latitude 32n showing 400iu/daily is a suitable intake to keep a one month old 10lbs baby vitamin D3 sufficient.
Either nancy weighs just 50lbs or she is taking far less vitamin D than is necessary to achieve the natural primitive status our ancestors DNA evolved to thrive with.
60~80ng/ml is the natural primitive level early humans and modern day human bodies acquire and maintain when given ample regular near full body sun exposure.
The above research explains how 6400iu/daily was required to enable human breast milk to flow vitamin d replete.
10,000iu is regarded as a safe upper limit. is a good source of information on vitamin D. It also has links to a very neat micro tablet version of vitamin D

I have been trying to get the Sun to publish an editorial about vitmain D deficiency for 6 months. Despite the obvious-fatal chronic diseases- especailly to blacks, they continue to ignore the facts. Put the Baltimore Sun on the list of idiot run media that contributes to genocide. Between electing Democrats who've run the city into the ground- or should I say cemetary? they continue to be mute. Great job Baltimore Sun- The KKK applauds you!

The 1:05 AM post may not be spam, but it's a bit offensive. "CLSangston" ought to know that you don't need a Sun editorial to get Vitamin D; it's readily available in pill form and is added to milk.

By the way, EL, I couldn't help noticing that your posting of a Vitamin D topic seems to have attracted hordes of spammers peddling every quack dietary supplement "remedy" out there. I do hope this wasn't your intent.

I agree with hmpstd about the 1:05 AM post. I don't think it's descrimination to any particular group that the Sun chooses not to editorialize Vit D. Everyone can read the NYT free on line, and most primary care docs are testing for this now.

Yes, there do seem to be a bit of shilling, but, hmpstd, I think it's just folks who think their vitamin sources are great and are sharing them.

Supplement experiment update: Maybe it's just time or the placebo effect, but i do feel markedly better. Most of my "aches" are from disuse of muscle as opposed to abject pain. I'm not a true believer yet, but seems to work, so i'll go with it (dosage 2,000 units per day)

You won't come to the blog dinner because you want to remain anonymous, but you post photos of yourself suntanning on the beach? That seems inconsistent.

I agree with hmpstd and Joyce W. on the 1:05 a.m. comment.

The lightweight commentary here is atroicious. The author's use of the word "trendy" to describe vitmain D would be more appropriate if it were applied to antibiotics or dialysis. The facts are in and the ramifications are quite clear: either supplement vitmain D to a serum level of at least 50 ng/ml, year round- for the rest of your life- or succumb to early onset chronic/fatal conditions. Metabolized Vitmain D is a steroid hormone known as calcitriol. Calcitriol is the body's premier disease fighter. To compare un-vitmain D to a mere vitmain or any other supplement is to compare The Library of Congress to a corner bookstore.

In ten years- probably less, everyone will be supplementing un-vitmain D. To do otherwise would be suicidal...

Funny. That's exactly what I've heard about every supplement that's come down the pike. That's what I heard about HRT. Until research showed otherwise. Forgive me if I have a wait and see attitude. EL

Hey, CS - "The lightweight commentary here is atroicious"? Good Grief, we're a FOOD blog and we're ...blogging! If you want a more knowledgeable discourse than go to the JAMA website!

captcha "buy dermis" Cleatus' illegal body parts saleman's name

Calcitriol is the body's premier disease fighter.

I thought anti-oxidants were the premier disease fighter. (But then, I confused rickets and scurvy. Being a lightweight commenter is so confusing.)

CS, would you mind explaining what a "Vitmain" is?

I don't know about you, but I'm wary about taking advice about legitimate health concerns from someone who is angry, insulting and can't spell. EL

The Vitamin D Dilemma. Sun protection can have serious side effects.

Thanks for the details. I look forward to reading more.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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