I met Anna at the Weston Price Conference this past fall and was immediately taken by her kind heart. She has a passion to help others find better health and practices as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner at Selah Wellness in California. After writing a post about sunscreen last month, I realized there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about vitamin D, so I asked Anna to write a guest post today to help us understand the importance vitamin D in the diet, what it actually does in the body and why popping just any vitamin D pill isn’t the best idea.
In the last 10 years, vitamin D has moved to the forefront as one of the most talked about nutrients. With more and more studies confirming that vitamin D may play a role in preventing a number of illnesses (including some cancers), in addition to improving various health conditions – many are rushing to their local supermarket to buy the vitamin and add it to their daily regimen; or spending that “10 minutes each day in the sunshine” as recommended by many health professionals. Unfortunately, neither of these are likely to actually improve one’s vitamin D levels, and low quality supplements will do more harm than good.
What is Vitamin D?
Ironically, vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all, but is rather a steroid hormone responsible for a number of processes in the body, ranging from regulating mineral absorption, to disease prevention and gene expression. While there are five forms of vitamin D, I will be covering the two most common / important which are D2, and D3.
Vitamin D2 is mostly found in plant foods, and only has about an 8% positive effectiveness in your body. Unfortunately, this is the form of D you are most likely going to find in the majority of supplements on the market. . .and making matters worse – D2 is toxic in excess causing a softening of the hard tissues and a hardening of the soft tissues in the body. I would encourage anyone considering a D supplement to do your research and be sure you are not getting D2.
Note: For several years, the dairy industry used D2 in their fortified milk products, but has since replaced it with D3. However if you are drinking fortified imitation milks such as soy, rice, almond, or oat – you are still being exposed to D2.
Vitamin D3 is obtained from sun exposure, or from certain animal foods. However, should you have inadequate levels, it is impossible to increase them through these sources alone, and here’s why. . .
Vitamin D and the Sun
Vitamin D3 is made from UVB rays only, which are weaker in winter months and stronger in the summer. Additionally, UVB rays are stronger as you get closer to the equator, and weaker further from it. If you are living in the US and wish to increase D3 levels using sunlight you would have to go outside fully naked for 30 minutes a day in July and August, however as soon as summer passes – you will be back to square one.
Vitamin D and Animal Foods
Vitamin D3 is found in: insects, fish eggs, and fish liver oils (such as cod liver oil), fish, and shellfish; in the fat and organs of birds; in the fat, organs, and milk of mono-gastric animals (pigs, bears, and guinea pigs); and in the organ meats and milk of poly-gastric animals (cows, sheep, and goats). The caveat is that for these animal products to offer sufficient levels of D3 the animals must have lived outside, been exposed to sunlight, and been allowed to eat green grass. Animals possess a unique ability to turn the chlorophyll from plants into D3 which they store in their organs, meats, and milk.
Unfortunately, in today’s ultra-manufactured food environment – we are hard pressed to find meats from pastured animals as the food industry now keeps them indoors, and fattens them up on corn, hay, and other nutritionless options.
Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency
Unfortunately, at least 75% of Americans are estimated to be deficient in vitamin D. In my practice in the last five years, I have only had ten clients test with adequate levels. Signs of deficiency can range anywhere from achy bones, and fatigue; to depression and stomach issues. However, many people may not notice any symptoms while still putting themselves at risk for a number of illnesses which have all been linked to deficiency, some of which include:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Cholesterol Regulation in the Blood
- Cancers including: colon, breast, ovarian, melanoma and prostate
Why You Should Stay Away from Conventional Vitamin D Supplements
- The majority of vitamin D supplements you’ll find at your local vitamin store or in the vitamin isle of the supermarket will only offer you vitamin D2 or a mix of D2 and D3. You want to stay away from synthetic D2 as it is more likely to have a negative impact on your health than a positive one.
- Just like calcium cannot be absorbed without magnesium, vitamin D cannot be adequately synthesized in your body without it’s cohorts – Vitamin K2, and Vitamin A. Most vitamin manufacturers are just looking to make a profit, without actually knowing the ins and outs of true nutrition and will not provide you with the right supplementation.
- Vitamin K2 is responsible for activating certain proteins which are responsible for distributing Vitamin D and calcium to where it should be (in your bones), and keeping it out of where it should not be (in your arteries). Americans are significantly deficient in K2 in addition to vitamin D, as it is also found in the meats, dairy, and organs of grass fed animals. Some of you may have heard or read that taking a vitamin D supplement can actually be bad for your health and this is true. Vitamin D taken without the necessary K2 will lead to vitamin D toxicity.
- Vitamin A curbs the excessive production of Vitamin K2 proteins to ensure you have just the right amount. If you are concerned that you may have inadequate vitamin D levels, please find a Certified Nutritional Therapist with the resources to test you to find out what you need, as well as provide you with a high-quality supplement to get your levels to where they should be. The good news is, most people are able to increase their vitamin D levels within 30-90 days through supplementation, and then can keep them at normal levels through a whole food – nutrient dense diet going forward.
The Benefits of Vitamin D
There are a number of studies indicating a significant positive impact on the short and long term health of those with adequate vitamin D levels. Some of the documented benefits of vitamin D include improving your body’s ability to:
- Appropriately regulate insulin production
- Encourage healthy reproduction
- Improve muscle tone
- Build healthy bones
- Reduce the risk of cancer by more than 50%; slow cancer cell production; and prevent tumors from becoming cancerous
- Improve skin health
- Enable the proper growth of children
- Fight infections (such as colds and flus) and strengthen the immune system
- Improve nervous system function
- Allow for the creation of ‘happy hormones’
- Lengthen your life
What is the Best Way to Make Sure You Get the Proper Amount of Vitamin D?
1. Get your Vitamin D3 levels checked by your doctor or Certified Nutritional Therapist
2. Once your Vitamin D levels are up using a clean, therapeutic grade supplement, you will want to include a diet rich in vitamins A,D, and K to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D.
Here is a list of foods that contain these vitamins:
- Pastured Egg yolks
- Pastured butter
- Grass fed beef
- Liver and organ meats from pastured animals
- Raw milk
- Raw Cream
- Oily fish (mackerel, tuna group, herring, anchovies, wild salmon, sardines, herring)
- Cod liver oil
- Animal fat from pastured animals (such as lard or tallow)
UPDATE: Many of you have asked about which brands are recommended. Here is a list of my (Carrie’s) favorite vitamin D supplements (contact your doctor or holistic practitioner for the dosage that is right for you): Biotics Bio-D-Mulsion Forte, Thorne Vitamin D/K2, and Blue Ice Royal Butter Oil.
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